Will Tobacco Personal Injury Lawsuits Ignite Following Recent California Supreme Court Ruling?

A recent California Supreme Court ruling about the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury claim against the tobacco industry could spark a whole new round of product liability lawsuits against tobacco companies in the state.

Specifically, the California Supreme Court struck down a tobacco industry claim that people can only file suit for smoking-related personal injuries within two years of becoming addicted to these products. The Court found that this two-year statute-of-limitations does not actually begin upon becoming addicted to cigarettes but rather ensues after being diagnosed with a disease caused by tobacco.

This case centered around the claims of Leslie Grisham, who said that she became addicted to cigarettes in the 1960s and was recently diagnosed with emphysema and periodontal disease. Grisham claimed that she should be able to file a product liability lawsuit against the tobacco industry after being diagnosed with these ailments. Hearing the case from a 9th Circuit Court Panel, the California Supreme Court agreed and said that Grisham and fellow plaintiff and emphysema sufferer Maria Cannata could proceed with their lawsuits against the industry.

The attorney of the tobacco industry, Daniel Collins, had argued that Grisham should have filed her product liability lawsuit within two years of learning that she was addicted, based on a 9th Circuit Court decision in 2002 of Soliman v. Philip Morris. Collins also said that longtime smokers like these ladies should not be allowed to claim that they were not aware of the hazards of smoking.

The personal injury attorneys of the women especially challenged Collins' first argument. Attorney Michael Baum said that is illogical for a person to file a product liability lawsuit against the tobacco industry after becoming addicted. Essentially, Baum said that plaintiffs would have to argue that they are addicted and may someday develop heart disease or cancer. He called such claims frivolous, and the California Supreme Court agreed.

Justice Carlos Moreno said in the ruling that Grishalm's "appreciable physical harm" did not manifest until she was diagnosed with her ailments. Moreno also said that she filed suit within a year of being diagnosed and that nothing appears to suggest that the plaintiffs' claims were time barred. The Court also countered Collins' second assertion by saying that there is no presumption that smokers are aware of the health risks or addictiveness of smoking.

What Could This Tobacco Product Liability Ruling Possibly Mean in California?

This decision could spark an upswing in California product liability lawsuits against the tobacco companies, according to enthusiastic attorneys and advocates quoted in the story on the Law.com website. The personal injury attorneys of the plaintiffs had claimed that the 2002 Circuit Court decision confining the statutes of limitations to two years after becoming addicted had likely stopped other people from even filing similar lawsuits.

According to Baum, the decision by the California Supreme Court had "resurrected stalled tobacco cases in the 9th Circuit." A law professor and president of the Tobacco Products Liability Project agreed and applauded the decision. Richard Daynard specifically said that the decision had put California tobacco litigation "back in business."

Daynard did say that the ruling did not address multiple illnesses. For example, he posed the question of if a smoker was diagnosed with emphysema five years ago and then lung cancer last month, what would happen if that person only files suit after learning of the lung cancer? Would the statute of limitations have already run out because of the first diagnosis? Such questions remain unanswered after this recent decision.

Collins declined comment beyond a Philip Morris written statement, which said the plaintiffs in this case must now prove that smoking caused their illnesses and that the company's conduct prevented them from making an educated choice to smoke. Grishalm had alleged that she did not know of the dangerous effects of cigarettes because of fraudulent business practices by tobacco companies.

If you believe you have a personal injury case against the tobacco industry or some other product manufacturer, fill out a free personal injury case evaluation form as soon as possible.

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