Timeline of Tobacco Litigation

July 2000

June 2000 
Oral arguments are heard in Washington, D.C. on a tobacco industry motion to dismiss a massive racketeering and Medicare cost recovery lawsuit filed by the U.S. government. A ruling is expected within several months. A Brooklyn, N.Y. jury finds that 30 years of smoking R.J. Reynolds' Salem cigarettes is not a substantial cause of a laborers' lung cancer.

May 2000 
The Tobacco Fee Arbitration Panel announces a unanimous decision regarding attorneys' fees for outside counsel retained by the State of Oklahoma in the 1998 state tobacco litigation settlement. In this case, the Panel determined that full, reasonable compensation for these attorneys is $250,000,000. These fees, which will be paid by the tobacco companies, are separate from -- and in addition to -- the $2 billion financial recovery Oklahoma will receive through its settlement with the tobacco industry over the next 25 years, and additional payments in perpetuity.

April 2000
The jury in the landmark Florida sick smokers case awards $12.7 million in compensatory damages to three plaintiffs after finding that the five tobacco companies named in the suit were responsible for the deaths and serious illnesses of hundreds of thousands of Florida smokers. The jury's decision that the industry makes a deadly, defective product opens the door for multi-billion dollar punitive damages hearing.

March 2000
A group of 4,000 tobacco farmers file a federal anti-trust lawsuit accusing the national's major cigarette manufacturers of conspiring to undermine the federal quota system that maintains the price of tobacco by regulating the amount grown.

After two for two major losses in the individual sick-smokers cases (the first two being the rulings in California and Oregon), Big Tobacco loses a $20 million case to Leslie Whiteley, a 40-year-old Californian stricken with lung cancer. The case is significant because it features a plaintiff who smoked marijuana and did not rely on advertising to start smoking cigarettes. The loss is perceived as the beginning of the slippery slope down for Big Tobacco and a boon for the 700 individual sick-smoker cases waiting to be heard.

The Supreme Court narrowly rules that the FDA exceeded the limits of its regulatory authority when it proposed a series of rules to curb the marketing of cigarettes to children and adolescents. This ruling deals a major blow to the Clinton administration's efforts to curb underage smoking and throws the debate over tobacco regulation to Congress.

A group of 145 New York hospitals, including Manhattan's famous Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, file a $3.4 billion lawsuit against major tobacco companies to recoup funds spent on sick smokers.

February 2000 
The British Columbia Supreme Court throws out a law under which the provincial government had sued tobacco companies for recovery of billions of dollars in smoking-related health care costs. The court rules that this aggressive antismoking law is unconstitutional in Canada.

Three class action lawsuits are filed in New York and California against Big Tobacco, claiming that several major companies have conspired to fix cigarette prices. These suits are filed one day after cigarette wholesalers file a similar lawsuit in Washington, DC.

October 1999 
Philip Morris, the country's largest cigarette manufacturer, acknowledges for the first time that scientific evidence showed that smoking was addictive and could cause cancer. A month later, The Insider, a movie about a Big Tobacco whistle-blower becomes a media darling. In Florida, the ruling which held that damages in a class-action lawsuit brought against cigarette makes must be determined on a case-by-case basis is overturned.

September 1999 
At the beginning of the month, a Florida state appeals court rules that the jury in a class-action lawsuit brought against Big Tobacco must determine damages on a case-by-case basis (as opposed to dealing out a single total sum for all the plantiffs). This is seen as a victory for Big Tobacco.

The Justice Department sues eight major tobacco companies to recover billions of dollars taxpayers have spent on smoking-related health care. The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court alleges the cigarette companies have conspired since the 1950s to defraud and mislead the American public — and to conceal information about the effects of smoking.

June 1999 
Testimony in the first class-action lawsuit by smokers to go to trial ends with a lawyer for smokers and their families mocking claims that tobacco companies worked to make their products safer and the defense asking for a mistrial. Lawyers for an estimated 500,000 sick Florida smokers or their survivors are seeking at least $200 billion from Philip Morris Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and other cigarette makers and industry groups.

In July, the Florida jury rules against the tobacco industry, finding that cigarette makers addicted and defrauded smokers and could be forced to pay billions of dollars in damages.

March 1999
The tobacco industry wins a major victory when an Ohio federal court jury rules against 114 union health funds seeking to recover hundreds of millions of dollars spent to treat sick smokers — the first case of its kind to reach a jury verdict. The case is one of about three dozen filed by union health care funds around the nation. Following the lead of states that sued the industry to recover billions in Medicaid funds used to treat sick smokers, the union health insurers charged that cigarette makers conspired to deceive the public about the dangers and addictiveness of smoking.

A few weeks later, an Oregon jury orders Philip Morris to pay $81 million to the family of a Marlboro smoker who died of lung cancer — the largest verdict ever against a tobacco company and the second major courtroom defeat for the industry in two months. Jesse Williams was a public school custodian who died two years ago of lung cancer at the age of 67 after smoking for nearly five decades. Philip Morris plans to appeal.

February 1999 
In a California court, a jury awards $50 million in punitive damages to a former Marlboro smoker with inoperable lung cancer — then the largest jury verdict ever against a tobacco company, and a potential harbinger of a new wave of tobacco litigation. The stunning defeat for tobacco giant Philip Morris is expected to throw open the floodgates for individual tobacco lawsuits, long considered a losing proposition for trial lawyers. Only three prior individual lawsuits over conventional cigarettes have ever been decided in favor of plaintiffs and all three were overturned on appeal. California's appeals courts could be reluctant to overrule this new decision, however because the state legislature recently passed a law specifically to allow tobacco lawsuits to go forward.

January 1999
The governments of Guatemala, Nicaragua and Panama file lawsuits in U.S. courts patterned on suits filed by U.S. states that led cigarette makers to agree to a $206 billion settlement last year. The Marshall Islands and British Columbia file similar actions in their home courts. They are seeking the hundreds of millions of dollars spent to treat sick smokers.

December 1998 
An arbitration panel orders tobacco companies to pay more than $8 billion in fees to lawyers who had sued cigarette makers in three states, including $3.4 billion — the largest fee in U.S. history — to 11 firms that represented Florida.

November 1998
Big Tobacco settles with eight attorneys general in an agreement designed to end a massive legal assault by more than three dozen states. They agree to pay $206 billion to settle remaining state claims over the costs of treating sick smokers. The settlement proposal, which will salvage parts of a broader tobacco agreement that died in Congress earlier this year, will also place new limits on how tobacco makers market their products. Phillip Morris raises wholesale prices of Marlboros and other cigarette brands by a record 45 cents a pack the day the industry sealed a mammoth legal settlement with the states.

July 1998 
A federal judge rules that the Environmental Protection Agency wrongly declared secondhand tobacco smoke a dangerous carcinogen in a landmark 1993 report. Despite fear that the ruling could imperil hundreds of local and regional ordinances banning indoor smoking, a few days later, government officials assure the public that there is no turning back from the widespread bans on smoking at work, in restaurants and on airplanes.

June 1998 
A Florida jury holds Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. responsible for a smoker's death and orders the company to pay his family $950,000 — the largest jury verdict ever in a lawsuit over tobacco's dangers and the first award of punitive damages in such a case. Roland "Eddie" Maddox, who died in 1997 of lung cancer at age 67, had smoked unfiltered Lucky Strikes for nearly 50 years before quitting in 1995. Later, in February 1999, a Florida appeals court overturns the judgment, saying that the case was tried in the wrong county.

April 1998 
On April 3, a day after a tough tobacco measure sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, clears a Senate committee by a 19-1 vote, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas tells cigarette companies that they must divulge 39,000 of their most closely guarded documents to the state of Minnesota. With this key evidence uncovered, the tobacco industry decides to settle, agreeing to pay more than $6.5 billion and accepting new restrictions on how it sells and markets cigarettes in Minnesota and the nation.

January 1998 
The tobacco industry tentatively agrees to pay a record $14.5 billion to settle a lawsuit filed by the state of Texas, representing the latest in a series of concessions by the beleaguered industry.

October 1997 
A group of airline flight attendants file a $5 billion lawsuit in Florida — a landmark class-action suit over secondhand smoke. The same four companies in the tobacco industry, which for decades bitterly fought every smoking-related lawsuit, announce a $349 million settlement deal.

August 1997
In a suit similar to the Mississippi settlement, the nation's largest tobacco companies settle Florida's lawsuit against them by agreeing to pay the state $11.3 billion over the next 25 years and to take steps aimed at reducing underage smoking.

July 1997 
The nation's four largest tobacco companies, Philip Morris Co., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., and the Lorillard Tobacco Co., agree to pay Mississippi nearly $3.4 billion over the next 25 years. The money is to settle the state’s pioneering lawsuit, making it the first plaintiff to collect money from the industry in a suit over tobacco.

Liggett Group makes dramatic break with industry, offers to settle Medicaid and addiction-based suits. Liggett tentatively settles with five states over Medicaid suits.

Former heavy smoker Grady Carter is awarded $750,000 from Brown and Williamson Tobacco by a Florida jury that determined the manufacturer was negligent for not warning about the danger of cigarettes. The verdict is appealed.

The five largest tobacco companies file suit in a North Carolina court challenging the FDA's authority to regulate tobacco and advertising. The advertising industry files in North Carolina within days. Smokeless tobacco manufacturers U.S. Tobacco Co. and Conwood Co. file suit in Tennessee. ABC apologizes to Philip Morris after a show claiming that the company has manipulated nicotine levels in its cigarettes. The network pays Philip Morris an estimated $16 million in legal fees.

Minnesota and Blue Cross/Blue Shield sue tobacco companies for violating antitrust laws by failing to disclose addictive qualities of tobacco. The Federal Trade Commission votes 3-2 not to file a complaint that the R.J. Reynolds Joe Camel ad campaign encourages children to buy cigarettes. Two commissioners issue strongly dissenting opinions.

Supreme Court rules that the 1966 warning label law does not shield tobacco companies from all lawsuits.