Can You Sue a Tobacco Company 1

Cigarettes are dangerous and addictive. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarettes (tobacco) are responsible for more than 480,000 early deaths in the United States each year. As you may already be aware, there was a wave of tobacco litigation in the 1990s. The big tobacco companies paid out billions of dollars in compensation.

You may be wondering: Can a tobacco company still be sued for causing cancer? The short answer is ‘yes’—but there are specific things that a plaintiff must prove to prevail in tobacco litigation in the modern era. In this article, our Massachusetts tobacco product liability attorneys explain the most important things to know about filing a lawsuit against a tobacco company in 2023.

Background: Tobacco Lawsuits and Master Settlement Agreement

The well-publicized wave of tobacco in the 1990s eventually resulted in something called the “Master Settlement Agreement.” Through this complex class action claim, tobacco mass tort litigation was resolved in most jurisdictions in the country. As noted by the truth initiative, the Master Settlement Agreement reached between 45 states, the District of Columbia, and several American territories was “the largest civil litigation settlement in U.S. history.” The multi-billion dollar agreement is complicated. Among other things, it involved:

  • Several major tobacco companies were named as defendants (Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson, etc.);

  • An agreement that paid out billions of dollars to victims, their families, and state advocacy groups; and

  • Major changes to the way that cigarettes would be advertised in the United States going forward.

Note: Massachusetts is a party to the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA).


Understanding Where Tobacco Litigation Stands in Massachusetts in 2023

Here is the big question: Can you still sue a tobacco company for harm caused by cigarettes in 2023? In Massachusetts, the answer is a clear and resounding “yes.” While the Commonwealth is covered by the MSA, that does not mean that tobacco litigation is over in Massachusetts. Quite the contrary, a Massachusetts court awarded a deceased cancer victim's family tens of millions of dollars in financial compensation earlier this year. Here are three key points:

  • The MSA Matters—But Does Not Bar You From Filing a Lawsuit: Cigarette victims and their families still have a right to file a lawsuit against a tobacco company in Massachusetts. The now 25-year-old agreement does not prohibit additional litigation.

  • Tobacco Victims Can Face Some Challenges in Litigation: Tobacco lawsuits are more challenging than they used to be in Massachusetts. As the MSA required cigarette companies to put additional health warning labels on their products, they have the ability to use that fact as part of their legal defense.

  • Successful Results: Massachusetts Court Awards $37 Million in 2023 Tobacco Lawsuit: The top court in Massachusetts awarded a $37 million cancer lawsuit against tobacco giant Philip Morris. The victim passed away after dealing with tobacco-caused cancer. Her family filed the claim. Notably. The case centered around “light” cigarettes—which were marketed as safer for consumers for a time following the MSA.

What to Prove to Prevail in an Individual Lawsuit Against a Tobacco Company?

Major tobacco companies are being held legally liable for medical complications caused by cigarettes in 2023. In many cases, people have developed cancers and other serious health conditions after many decades of using these highly addictive and dangerous products that were aggressively advertised by multi-billion dollar tobacco giants. To be clear, a person is not automatically entitled to financial compensation simply because they smoked a cigarette at one point or another in their life. Prevailing in a tobacco product liability claim requires proving:

  • Actual harm was suffered because of tobacco use (lung cancer, COPD, etc.); and

  • The tobacco company was negligent (failure to warn, misleading advertising, etc.)

Why Comparative Negligence Matters in Massachusetts Tobacco Litigation in 2023?

Cigarette lawsuits have historically focused on two competing theories of fault. The first says that the tobacco company is responsible because they marketed and sold an inherently dangerous and addictive product to consumers—generally without providing proper warnings regarding the health and safety challenges. The second theory of fault—the one raised by tobacco companies—argues that the victim is responsible because he or she made his or her own choice to smoke.

However, in tobacco litigation in 2023 in Massachusetts, fault is not an either/or proposition.   Comparative negligence is often an issue in tobacco cases. Indeed, most people who file individual lawsuits against tobacco companies in 2023 openly admit to partial responsibility for their own issues. In accepting partial fault, they still assert that the tobacco company bears some responsibility.

As medical complications are often significant, a smoker or their family may be entitled to recover extensive financial compensation even when acknowledging partial fault. If you have any specific questions or concerns about comparative negligence and tobacco litigation, our Massachusetts mass tort attorneys are more than ready to help.

How Can the Tobacco Mass Tort Lawyers at Bernheim Kelley Battista, LLC, Help?

Tobacco litigation is complicated—especially in 2023. That being said, it is still possible to file a lawsuit against a major tobacco company. At Bernheim Kelley Battista, LLC, we have the professional experience and top legal expertise that victims and families can trust in these challenging cases. A one-size-fits-all strategy does not work for tobacco litigation in Massachusetts. The specific facts of the case always matter when it comes to liability and damages. Victims and families deserve legal representation from an attorney who will put time and attention to detail in their case. With a proven history of psuccessful case results and testimonials from former clients, you can rely on our Massachusetts mass tort tobacco litigation lawyers to handle your case the right way.

At Bernheim Kelley Battista, LLC, our Massachusetts mass tort lawyers have the professional expertise to represent victims and families in tobacco litigation. If you have any specific questions or concerns about filing a lawsuit against a tobacco company, we are more than ready to help. Give us a call or contact us online to request your free, strictly confidential consultation. With offices in Plymouth and Boston, we handle tobacco litigation across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.