Tobacco lawsuit includes punitive damages

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The state and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota on Tuesday amended their complaint against the tobacco industry after receiving a judge’s permission to include unspecified punitive damages.
But cigarette makers said the decision by Ramsey County District Judge Kenneth Fitzpatrick to allow punitive damages won’t affect the trial, scheduled to begin Jan. 20, because the plaintiffs can’t prove their case.
“The plaintiffs don’t even have a case for basic damages much less punitive damages,” said Michael York, an outside attorney for Philip Morris in Washington.
“Their case depends on proof that not only did the companies act wrongfully, but they have to show that the wrongful acts caused some monetary loss to the plaintiffs. They simply cannot do that because the case isn’t there,” York maintained.
Attorney General Hubert Humphrey III said the judge’s decision to allow punitive damages “speaks for itself. We are very pleased with the order.”
The plaintiffs allege, in the amended complaint, that acts of the tobacco industry “demonstrate a willful indifference to the rights or safety of others, entitling the plaintiffs herein to an award of punitive damages.”
The state and the insurer are suing the major tobacco companies to recover costs of smoking-related illnesses. The actual costs have been estimated at $1.75 billion, according to figures released in court, but that figure has fluctuated during the litigation.
Any punitive damages, if awarded, would come on top of actual damages assessed.
Defendants in the case are: Philip Morris Inc.; R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.; Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp.; B.A.T. Industries PLC; British-American Tobacco Co. Ltd.; BAT (U.K. & Export) Ltd.; Lorillard Tobacco Co.; The American Tobacco Co., now part of Brown & Williamson; and Liggett Group Inc., which is a defendant of Blue Cross only; The Counsel for Tobacco Research-U.S.A. Inc. and The Tobacco Institute Inc.
The judge also said two former employees of British-American Tobacco Co. who live in England must appear in court in St. Paul on Monday for deposition. Raymond Thornton worked for BATCo from November 1962 to December 1993 and Alan Heard worked for the company from October 1978 until January 1992.
Fitzpatrick ordered the depositions taken in St. Paul after efforts to obtain the depositions in England were unsuccessful. He said B.A.T. Industries and BATCo would be held responsible by the court for ensuring their appearance.
BATCo has argued that, as former employees, the men are no longer under the company’s control.