Class-action status denied to casino workers in smoking case
LAS VEGAS (AP) – A federal judge has denied class-action status to Nevada casino dealers and others who wanted tobacco companies to pay for medical exams to detect smoking-related illnesses.
A plaintiffs’ lawyer said the decision could kill cases in Nevada aimed at proving that tobacco companies lied about the adverse health effects of breathing secondhand smoke.
”You usually cannot bring these cases one-by-one,” said Robert Gerard, a Las Vegas and San Diego lawyer representing two of the plaintiffs. ”That’s not economical.”
U.S. District Judge Philip M. Pro in Las Vegas ruled that differences in the four Nevada cases were too great to lump them together for trial. One involved smokers. The other three were filed on behalf of nonsmoking casino workers exposed to secondhand smoke.
Executives at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Philip Morris Co., two of the four defendants, hailed the June 29 ruling after copies reached the parties this week.
”The court’s decision is very sensible,” Daniel W. Donahue, senior vice president and general counsel for Reynolds Tobacco, said Thursday.
”Tobacco class actions simply are not appropriate because they always involve a wide variety of individuals,” he said, ”(and) unique facts and circumstances.”
Gerard called Pro’s ruling ”a double loss for casino workers.”
”Not only can they be denied (monetary) damages,” he said, ”but they were seeking class certification to establish a medical monitoring fund so that smokers and nonsmoking casino workers could get an early diagnosis and the best benefit from any available medical treatment.”
Gerard said a class-action case could represent 100,000 nonsmoking casino workers in Nevada and many times that number of individual smokers. Nevada has the highest per capita number of smoking adults in the nation.
The four cases in which class-action status was denied are: Badillo v. American Tobacco Co.; Dienno v. Liggett Group; Christensen v. Philip Morris and Selcer v. R.J. Reynolds.
At Philip Morris, William S. Ohlmeyer, company vice president and associate general counsel, called class-action lawsuits inappropriate in tobacco cases because of an ”overwhelming” number of individual issues.
”Medical monitoring class actions are simply no different,” he said.
The judge, in his nine-page decision, said the plaintiffs’ claims and the classes they hoped to join ”are replete with individual issues such as causation, comparative fault, assumption of risk, product identification, statute of limitations and damages.”
Philip Morris said in a statement that cases would differ by type of illness claimed, brand of cigarette smoked, whether claims were filed in a timely manner and whether smokers suffered damages.
Though Nevada plaintiffs never sought a specific damage figure, Gerard said a class-action might have been worth more than $10 million.
A year ago, a Florida jury ordered five major tobacco companies in a class-action smoking case to pay smokers a record $145 billion in punitive damages.
Before ruling in the Nevada case, Pro last year asked the Nevada Supreme Court to decide whether Nevada common law recognized medical monitoring as a cause for legal action.
The state high court ruled unanimously Jan. 30 that it does not.
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