A class action is a lawsuit filed by a “class representative” or “representative plaintiff” on behalf of a larger group of people. Unless you opt out of a class action, your claims are included in the lawsuit. Not every claim can become a class action. To certify a class action, you typically must show that:
- The class members have the same type of injury;
- The class is clearly defined and easily identifiable;
- The class is so numerous that joining individual plaintiffs to your lawsuit is impractical; and
- The class members’ legal and factual claims are very similar.
Due to marked similarities in many tobacco-related personal injury claims, modern tobacco litigation relies heavily on class actions. For example, in one recent case, three plaintiffs sued several tobacco companies on behalf of over 500,000 people in Florida, alleging that they all suffered similar smoking-related illnesses.
The History of Tobacco Litigation
These days, it's no secret that smoking is dangerous. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), nearly one in five deaths in the United States is smoking-related. Moreover, tobacco use results in annual medical costs of over $75 billion. Many individuals who have experienced the harmful effects of smoking have started to explore their options to hold these cigarette companies accountable. However, tobacco litigation has historically been difficult.
A history of American tobacco litigation includes:
- 1950’s: Plaintiffs start filing lawsuits alleging negligent manufacturing, product liability, and fraud claims. The tobacco companies overwhelmingly win these cases.
- 1980’s: New arguments are introduced, asserting that tobacco companies knew (and failed to disclose) the addictive nature of tobacco products and their link to cancer. Again, tobacco companies prevail in most of these cases.
- 1990’s: Due to tobacco company document leaks, plaintiffs begin to win tobacco-related claims. Most states file lawsuits alleging violations of state consumer protection laws—arguing that the tobacco products, advertising, and business practices damaged public health.
- 1998: Most states enter a Master Settlement Agreement that establishes state tobacco funds and prohibits certain activities (such as tobacco advertising that targets children).
Since then, the number of successful tobacco cases has increased. However, the tobacco companies still aggressively fight personal injury and class action claims.
Common Issues in Tobacco Class Action Lawsuits
Common causes of action against big tobacco include:
- Deceptive business practices and other consumer protection claims;
- Failure to warn;
- Products liability and strict liability; and
- Wrongful death.
However, class action litigation requires careful drafting of your complaint and other pleadings. Certifying a plaintiff class is a very complicated and technical process. Without the help of an experienced tobacco class action lawyer, it’s virtually impossible to successfully certify a plaintiff class.
Why Should I Join a Tobacco Class Action?
Tobacco litigation is a complex and frustrating process, requiring extensive research and legal expertise. Because tobacco claims involve massive amounts of evidence, the hiring of expensive expert witnesses, and aggressive defense strategies, some personal injury lawyers will not take on individual tobacco suits. A class action lawsuit can make the litigation process more efficient, increase the case’s value, and minimize the risks involved with suing large well-funded tobacco companies.
Secondhand Smoke Class Actions
Some plaintiffs have successfully pursued secondhand smoke class actions. For example, a group of non-smoking flight attendants sued tobacco companies for injuries related to secondhand smoke in the 1990’s. This case settled for approximately $300 million. However, many secondhand smoke cases are very fact specific and are difficult to prove. If you have questions about secondhand smoke injuries, then contact an experienced personal injury lawyer.
Consult with a Tobacco Class Action Lawyer
If you suffer from a smoking-related illness, you should consult with an experienced tobacco litigation lawyer or a personal injury lawyer. An attorney can offer you advice as to whether you should join a class action, file an individual lawsuit, or pursue another course of action.