Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Got a Light?

"Smokers get $4.9m from Philip Morris USA in suit over Marlboro Lights" by Janelle Lawrence Bloomberg News  February 23, 2016

Nearly 200,000 Marlboro Lights smokers will get $25 each, plus interest — a fraction of the $600 million the plaintiffs had sought from Altria Group’s Philip Morris USA — after a Massachusetts judge found they were duped into buying what they thought was a safer cigarette. 

I've always been of the mind that it was not helpful to ingest hot smoke, but that's just me.

Plaintiffs “paid too much for the misrepresented cigarette,” but their attorneys failed to prove they shared similar injuries beyond overpaying, Superior Court Judge Edward P. Leibensperger wrote in a 41-page decision released Monday, after 17 years of litigation, ordering Philip Morris to pay $4.94 million plus interest.

Although Marlboro Lights were as harmful as Marlboro Reds, the judge wrote, “I have no evidential basis for quantifying the actual damages of each class member.” The judge, who ruled after a five-week bench trial held last year, rejected plaintiffs’ attempt to quantify the injury with a questionnaire asking smokers what they would have paid for an imaginary cigarette that was safer.

Lawyer Tom Urmy said plaintiffs will appeal the judge’s decision not to order Philip Morris to give up $68 million in pretax profits on sales of Marlboro Lights in Massachusetts.

“The defendant should not be allowed to profit” from a marketing fraud, Urmy said.

With interest, the award increases to $15.1 million, according to attorneys involved in the case. The class action had 197,000 members.

“The court clearly recognized the evidence didn’t support the outrageous amount sought by plaintiffs,” said Murray Garnick, associate general counsel for Altria.

Since the Massachusetts case was filed in 1998, courts have narrowed the scope of class-action litigation. In a similar case against Philip Morris, the Illinois Supreme Court last year threw out a $10 billion award made in 2003 to buyers of Marlboro Lights.

The award in Monday’s decision was a blow to plaintiffs, but the ruling of deceptive marketing adds fuel to several personal-injury lawsuits pending in Massachusetts, said Edward Sweda Jr., senior attorney at the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University’s School of Law.

“Plaintiffs’ lawyers will try to rely on this and ask it to be considered by these courts,” Sweda said, calling the ruling a “significant victory” in cigarette foes’ battle against tobacco.

The Food and Drug Administration banned the use of the label “Light” in 2010.