Negotiators put off tobacco lawsuit talks to a later date

NEW YORK (AP) Talks to settle tobacco lawsuits are off until at least next week as anti-smoking negotiators resolve their disagreements over whether the industry should have immunity from punitive damages, The Wall Street Journal reported today.
The dispute could derail what would be a landmark settlement since the $45 billion tobacco industry has said it will reject any deal that requires it to pay punitive damages in the future, the newspaper said.
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a key negotiator, said the group of 32 attorneys general suing the industry have rejected any restrictions on a smoker’s ability to sue tobacco companies.
However, some of the attorneys general favor concessions.
Richard F. Scruggs, an attorney who represents 20 of the 32 states suing the tobacco industry, said those states want a moratorium on punitive damages in exchange for a settlement to help them recover Medicaid costs of treating smokers with tobacco-related ailments.
“Punitive damages could torpedo this deal; in order for the settlement to work, the majority of states … have to work their will on the minority,” he told the Journal.
The talks were expected to resume June 9, the newspaper said.
The unprecedented talks among industry executives, private lawyers, the attorneys general and public health advocates have been going on since early this year. Scruggs told the Journal that anti-smoking forces generally support granting the industry protection from class-action lawsuits and limiting how much firms would pay annually for liability judgments.