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Update: Conn. Court's Tobacco Lawsuit Ruling Could Impact Other Products Liability Cases

May 3, 2016

Christian Nolan, The Connecticut Law Tribune -- A Norwich woman who developed cancer after years of smoking Salem cigarettes is one step closer to collecting a $28 million judgment against tobacco manufacturer R.J. Reynolds.

The Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled that lawsuits against cigarette manufacturers aren't prohibited by an exemption in Connecticut's tort liability law. The court was asked to decide the issue by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which is considering R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.'s appeal of the award.

"For plaintiff's trial lawyers, the goal is to be able to try your case to the jury," said Jeffrey R. White, senior litigation counsel for the Center for Constitutional Litigation in Washington, D.C. "I think what the [Connecticut] Supreme Court did was update its rules to make sure that the courthouse doors stay open to plaintiffs who can prove their case."

White, who submitted an amicus brief with Kathleen Nastri on behalf of the American Association for Justice, said the state Supreme Court ruling has broad implications. "This extends far beyond tobacco and cigarette cases," White explained. "If something is blatantly dangerous, it doesn't give the manufacturer a free ride, or an escape from liability.

"There are an awful lot more injured workers trying to bring suits against the makers of dangerous machines than there are smokers suing tobacco companies," White continued. "For the smokers themselves, this obviously is a step in the right direction. [It's now] much easier to get to a jury with the test the court announced, though it's not necessarily a guarantee you're going to win."

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