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Supreme Court Hits Big Tobacco Hard In Pocketbook

Armen Hareyan's picture

Supreme Court opened the door to much bigger verdicts against the major tobacco companies.

This was released in a unanimous decision which said that many if not most smoker law suits against the companies can proceed in state courts where damages tend to be much higher, rather than in federal courts as the defendants had pushed for.

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"Smokers killed, disabled, or injured by cigarettes which they smoked because of tobacco company's lies now have a better chance of obtaining real justice in amounts which come closer to compensating them," said law professor John Banzhaf of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH).

"Because the courts of many states have the potential for higher damage awards than corresponding federal courts, tobacco companies have long sought to transfer cases filed against them in state court to the federal court system, even on the flimsiest of reasons. Here they argued that pervasive regulation by the FTC provided a rationale."

But, explains Banzhaf, that justification, if accepted by the Supreme Court, could have robbed state courts of virtually all of their jurisdiction over product liability cases since such products are regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and sometimes also other agencies. Moreover, said Banzhaf, the irony is that cigarettes are virtually the only consumer product which is totally unregulated by the federal government.

"State courts and state court juries which believe that illegal deceptive tactics by major cigarette manufacturers annually cause the death of almost half a million Americans, and cripple and disable millions more, should be able to award the huge damages such actions warrant without interference by the federal government," argues Banzhaf.