Tobacco Manufacturers Face Another Lawsuit - The Washington Times - July 9, 1997

By: Samuel Goldreich
The Washington Times
July 9, 1997

A group of Illinois smokers has filed a class-action lawsuit against tobacco manufacturers, challenging limits on the right to sue that are a key part of the proposed $368.5 billion settlement of health claims against the industry.

The suit, filed Monday, is part of a wave of legal assaults against the deal struck last month between the nation's four largest cigarette manufacturers and 40 state attorneys general. The agreement, if passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton, would settle private claims and state lawsuits filed to recover Medicaid costs of treating smoking-related illnesses.

But there is growing opposition to elements of the deal that would ban future class-action lawsuits and disallow punitive damages.

'There's a big conflict of interest going on between the attorneys general acting for the states and agreeing to limit the rights of private citizens,' said Kenneth Moll, lead attorney for 17 smokers in the Illinois case.

The suit against the major tobacco manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers and industry groups was filed in Chicago's Cook County Circuit Court and asks a state judge to allow the attorneys to represent some 3 million Illinois smokers.

Mr. Moll had no estimate of the damages his plaintiffs will seek but said that the $5 billion annual cap on payments to individuals proposed under the nationwide settlement is inadequate.

'There are over 400,000 tobacco-related deaths each year in the United States,' he said. 'If you divide that into their number, a death claim is worth only $7,000.'

Meanwhile, another group of plaintiffs - representing union-negotiated health plans - announced yesterday that they would try to get a piece of the $368.5 billion, which is also intended to pay for tobacco regulation by the Food and Drug Administration, anti-smoking efforts and children's health programs.

'The recently announced `global' settlement . . . does not take into account the 30 million men, women and children covered by the [health] funds,' said Brian McQuade, chairman of the Coalition for Workers Health Care Funds, which represents health plans in 14 states.

The coalition plans to lobby Congress and the White House to set aside money from the settlement for the health plans.