Tobacco litigation has a long history that has resulted in big tobacco companies having to pay out for things like misleading advertisements, improper warnings, fraud, and other related actions that compromised the safety of Americans. This could apply to both smokers (current or past) and non-smokers, depending on the situation and whether there were any injuries sustained. Now, you see warnings on basically all cigarette advertisements and products warning about the dangers of smoking.

While more limited than years past, tobacco litigation is still possible. If you or a family member has been harmed by a tobacco product, then you might want to sue the tobacco company or companies who manufactured and/or advertised the product. You would just need to determine if you have the legal right to bring this type of lawsuit.

Besides individuals, government entities and classes of individuals are also usually interested in pursuing legal action against tobacco companies. If a person or entity is eligible to sue a tobacco company, it is important to be fully apprised of the appropriate steps. If you win, compensation can be available for damages you suffered. A skilled lawyer can assist with this entire process to make sure things are done correctly and to obtain the best possible outcome for their clients claiming harm resulting from tobacco.

Who Is Eligible to Sue Tobacco Companies?

If you want to sue a tobacco company, there are some formal requirements you will need to meet first. This includes the following:

  • Determine what type of action you want to bring, like wrongful death or fraud.
  • Individuals will need to be injured from direct smoking or second-hand smoke exposure. If someone’s death can be linked to tobacco, then their estate can sue the tobacco company as representation for the deceased person’s injuries and death.

    • It is important to remember that the mere fact you are a smoker does not make you eligible to bring a lawsuit against a tobacco company. If you did not suffer any illness resulting from smoking then you cannot sue the tobacco company.
  • For class action lawsuits or mass tort claims against tobacco companies, each individual plaintiff will need to meet the same requirements and have been injured from direct smoking or second-hand smoke exposure.

Remember that these are just basic eligibility requirements a person or persons need to sue. Without being a smoker or family member of a deceased smoker, standing will not exist. Also, as noted there needs to be an actual injury to be an eligible plaintiff. This often includes lung cancer, death, and other physical illnesses. Lastly, check any applicable state or federal requirements specific to the jurisdiction you are filing suit.

What are the Steps to Take to Sue a Tobacco Company?

Both individuals and classes of individuals can sue tobacco companies if they are eligible and can fulfill the elements of the applicable causes of action. Keep in mind that class actions or mass tort claims usually do better in these situations because they represent the widespread harm tobacco companies allegedly cause. Companies may also be more inclined to settle a class action or mass tort claim.

A mass tort claim is similar to a class action where all the plaintiffs suffered a similar harm. In this instance, it would be an illness or death from smoking. The difference is that mass tort claims require each plaintiff to file their own actions showing their individual harm. As such, these claims offer less protections to potential plaintiffs because you cannot be compensated without filing a suit. 

However, it is still an ideal option for bringing tobacco suits because class actions can offer less payment for each plaintiff. Oftentimes plaintiffs in tobacco suits have suffered great harm that varies between person to person, so being able to prove an individual case is more ideal and can get a bigger payout to cover expenses resulting from the alleged harm suffered.

Lastly, in the past some states have sued tobacco companies for the harm to their citizens and associated Medicaid costs. In 1998 the four biggest tobacco companies in the country paid out hundreds of billions of dollars to states who sued them about this. Now, it is more common to see individual and class claims since many companies have tried to change their advertising in order to make consumers more aware of the dangers of smoking.

After determining the best type of suit to bring, you need to determine the legal theory to base the claims on against the tobacco company. Some common legal theories plaintiffs assert in these situations are product liability, defective products, false advertising, and wrongful death.

A lot of cases now focus on how companies advertise their tobacco products, especially ones that claim light cigarettes are a safe alternative. Based on the rise in vape products and the risks that have come to light with these, there will probably be a trend with cases against vape manufacturers as well.

What Kind of Compensation Can You Receive from Suing a Tobacco Company?

If a lawsuit against a tobacco company settles or goes to trial, you can receive compensation for injuries or death resulting from cigarette use. Many companies entertain settlements in these cases. As such, it is important to know how tobacco settlement payments to individuals work. This can be a complicated process and will depend on the type of case you bring.

With a class action, tobacco settlement payments to individuals will likely be standardized and a set amount for each plaintiff. There will be a notice put out in the public and potential class members not already a part of the action can ask to participate in the compensation if they were injured by the tobacco company.

With a mass tort claim, tobacco settlement payments to individuals will depend on how much harm they claimed and proved to have suffered. The settlement will be proportionate to this, unlike the standard payment to every plaintiff in a class action matter. This can make the settlement agreement more detailed or the company may compose individual settlement agreements unique to each plaintiff.

With an individual lawsuit, there will be one settlement agreement outlining the terms specific to that one plaintiff only. As noted above, this is not the usual mechanism for tobacco lawsuits. Class actions and mass tort claims are much more common.

Additionally, tobacco settlements can have terms relating to stopping certain advertising practices or manufacturing processes. Violating these terms could result in future fines that the tobacco companies will have to pay out. 

Do I Need an Attorney to Sue Tobacco Companies?

If you wish to sue a tobacco company, there are many benefits to hiring a tobacco settlement lawyer. A tobacco settlement lawyer who has worked on these types of cases in the past is in the unique position to offer valuable input on such a narrow type of case. There is also a better chance of getting a settlement on the table when using an experienced tobacco settlement lawyer.

The best avenue is to consult a local products liability lawyer specializing in tobacco cases. A lawyer can help you determine what type of claims you can bring and evaluate your success. A lawyer can also represent you in any settlement negotiations or court appearances.