A typical lawsuit against a tobacco company involves allegations of personal injury, product liability, fraud, loss of companionship, or wrongful death for smoke-related injuries. The suits against the tobacco companies have been brought by individuals and as part of a class action suit. Class actions suits generally fare better than claims by individuals because of the access to more documentary proof.

You can assert the suit against a tobacco company on behalf of yourself or a family member. Lawsuits against tobacco manufacturers may assert a variety of defenses to defeat a claim, including that the smoker or injured party assumed the risk of injury or that their injury had other causes. The most popular defense relates to the failure of the plaintiff to bring the suit against the tobacco company within the prescribed statute of limitations.

For those specifically looking to sue tobacco manufacturers in California, here’s a look at what you need to know.

A History Of Lawsuits Against Tobacco Companies

For more than fifty years, individuals and family members have been filing lawsuits against tobacco companies seeking the award for damages for smoke-related injuries. Lawsuits have alleged the development of cancers, heart disease, and gum disease, among other injuries.

Tobacco companies had a history of denying the link between cancer and smoking. As a result, suits were moderately successful because of the defenses asserted by the tobacco companies and because of the lack of documentary evidence available to the plaintiff.

Documents detailing the addictiveness of tobacco has become more prevalent. However, while this has been good news for plaintiffs, the lawsuits against tobacco companies still frequently turned on the smoker’s own actions in becoming addicted to cigarettes.

The California legislature in 1987 limited suit on the basis of any product that was known to be inherently unsafe. Many were confused whether California appeared to confer limited immunity for tobacco companies. The Legislator modified that statute some years later, opening the doors for more lawsuits against tobacco companies.

In 1998, there was litigation by California and other states asserting various legal theories relating to marketing and advertising of tobacco to adults and children. This resulted in a Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) with some of the largest tobacco manufacturers concerning their marketing practices. There is strict oversight to ensure that there is compliance with the MSA. Over many decades, tobacco companies have paid billions of dollars in damages.

When Should I File My Suit Against a Tobacco Company in California?

In the past, litigants were required to bring their claims within two years of becoming addicted to cigarettes. Now, litigants have been accorded a longer period and may now file their suits within two years of the diagnosis of the injury caused by their smoking.

What Caused the Change in a Tobacco Lawsuit Filing Deadline in California?

In 2007, on the bases of a statute of limitation technicality, the California Supreme Court rejected the defense of an assumption of risk asserted by tobacco companies against smokers.

This paved the way to allow smokers to claim damages for injuries that occurred after they became addicted to cigarettes. It is important to note that the Court imposed a different deadline for economic injuries related to addiction and subsequent physical injury.

This California Supreme Court decision formalized the actions of lower court which had allowed suits to proceed in some cases after the related injury, ignoring the fact the smoker knew much earlier about their addiction.

The case involved a smoker who had developed smoking-related illness before being diagnosed with lung cancer. The tobacco companies had argued the suit should be dismissed because the plaintiff in the class action had missed the then existing two year window after discovering the smoking related illness.

This means that litigants now can sue tobacco companies after they have been diagnosed with a new case of lung cancer even if they earlier had smoking-related illnesses. This case has broad applications nationally and will allow many more litigants to file their claims against tobacco manufacturers.

What Types Of Damages are Recoverable for a Tobacco Lawsuit?

Damages are quite varied in a lawsuit against a tobacco company. If successful, the plaintiff may recover for:

  • Compensatory damages resulting from the injury;
  • Loss of current and future earnings;
  • Current and future medical expenses;
  • General damages;
  • Pain and Suffering;
  • Loss of Consortium or companionship;
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Emotional distress; and
  • Punitive damages

Compensatory damages is the most commonly awarded damages and also are known as actual damages. Punitive damages are more rare and may be awarded in a case where there is proof of deliberate or malicious conduct.

A damage verdict in California can be quite large, even running in the millions. However, keep in mind that damages depend on the nature of the claims alleged against the tobacco company and the evidence submitted in the case.

Do I Need an Attorney If I am Suing a Tobacco Company in California?

If you believe you have a claim against a tobacco company, you may wish to consult an attorney. The process can be long and complicated, and tobacco companies have a better access to legal resources and money for a lengthy legal battle. On top of that, if you are filing a claim in California, you should consult a California attorney.