California Supreme Court Gives Green Light for Smokers to Sue Big Tobacco

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California Supreme Court Gives Green Light for
Smokers to Sue Big Tobacco

The ruling on Grisham vs. Philip Morris
Leslie Grisham is represented by Baum Hedlund

Los Angeles, February 15, 2007 - - The California Supreme Court today rejected the notion that smokers are presumed to be aware of the addictiveness and health hazards of smoking, clearing the way for long-time smokers to file claims for injuries that occurred decades after a smoker first may have become addicted to cigarettes. The Court ruled that separate filing deadlines apply to addiction-related economic injury claims and subsequent physical injury claims.

In so ruling, the Court decided questions of California law related to cigarette addiction, as requested by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal. The Court was asked to review the cases of two California smokers, Leslie Grisham and Maria Cannata against cigarette manufacturing giants Philip Morris USA and Brown & Williamson. The ruling impacts tobacco litigation not only in California but nationally.

Previously, in Soliman v. Philip Morris, Inc. 311 F. 3d 966 (9th Cir. 2002), the 9th Circuit dismissed a California smoker’s lung-injury claim for failing to promptly sue, after he knew he was addicted to smoking but many years before he developed lung disease. But California state courts, when faced with similar cases, had permitted smoker claims to proceed. The California Supreme Court’s decision today resolved these conflicting views, allowing both federal and state court-filed smoking claims to proceed.

Ms. Grisham started smoking at age twelve in the early 1960s, when tobacco company reps handed out cigarettes near her junior high school. She tried quitting in 1993 and was diagnosed almost ten years later with emphysema and smoking-induced periodontal disease—a little-known side effect of smoking.

Grisham filed suit within one year of discovering that she had smoking-related periodontal disease. Notwithstanding, tobacco manufacturers successfully argued the Soliman rule, resulting in dismissal of Grisham’s case and other similarly situated tobacco-related injury cases, based on filing deadlines running from the date of knowledge of addiction rather than the date of serious injury.

In 1988, California repealed legislation that granted cigarette manufacturers immunity from smoking-related lawsuits. Since then, California state courts have granted substantial awards to California smokers who suffered tobacco-related injury or death. Others, like Grisham and Cannata, saw their cases dismissed by California federal courts, in contravention of California’s legislative intent and public policy.

Today’s California Supreme Court ruling emphatically rejected Soliman’s flawed presumption that smokers should have been aware of addiction and smoking health risks as early as 1988.

Ms. Grisham is represented by Frances Phares and Michael Baum of Baum Hedlund in Los Angeles, a national plaintiff’s law firm handling drug product liability and mass tort cases since the 1980s and Daniel U. Smith, Certified Appellate Specialist, of Kentfield, California.

"Big Tobacco cannot have it both ways. They cannot get away with denying the same smoking health risks which they expect smokers to be aware of. It’s patently unfair," Baum Hedlund’s senior partner, Michael Baum, said. "The people with smoking diseases started smoking a generation ago when the dangers were unknown to the public. We are pleased with the Court’s ruling, which will allow victims to litigate for recently-developed smoking injuries."

The case is Grisham v. Philip Morris, S132772.