Oregon justices side with tobacco companies

By Chris Rizo | May 1, 2008

SALEM, Ore. (Legal Newsline)-The Oregon Supreme Court on Thursday let a lower court ruling stand, rejecting a class action lawsuit seeking to force tobacco companies to pay the medical monitoring bills of smokers.

The lawsuit sought to force the nation's five biggest tobacco companies to pay for healthcare expenses for up to 400,000 Oregonians by paying for such things as tests to detect lung cancer, emphysema and other diseases attributed to smoking.

Patricia Lowe filed the lawsuit argued that cigarette makers were negligent in not recognizing earlier that smoking can lead to cancer.

She said cigarette makers either "knew or should have known that their cigarettes contained toxic and hazardous substances likely to cause lung cancer."

Named in the lawsuit were R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., Lorillard Tobacco Co. and Liggett Group Inc.

The high court unanimously rejected the suit, saying that the Lowe failed to demonstrate that she had suffered any ill effects from smoking cigarettes.

The justices found that she only alleged the threat of future harm, and that is not sufficient to level a negligence claim.

They added that for a negligence claim against tobacco companies to stick, plaintiffs must show actual harm.

"Oregon law has long recognized that the fact that a defendant's negligence poses a threat of future physical harm is not sufficient, standing alone, to constitute an actionable injury," Justice Rives Kistler wrote for the court.

"As this court has explained, 'the threat of future harm, by itself, is insufficient as an allegation of damage in the context of a negligence claim,'" he wrote.

In a statement, Martin Holton III, general counsel for Winston-Salem, N.C.-based R.J. Reynolds, said the company is "pleased" with the justices' decision.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo by e-mail at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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