As a St. Louis product defects attorney, I was very interested to read about the start of a trial that pits St. Louis-area medical providers against tobacco companies. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Feb. 1 on the opening statements in the case. The long-running case was originally filed in 1998 by medical care providers claiming tobacco companies should pay the costs of treating patients who couldn’t or didn’t pay their medical costs. They said cigarettes are a defective product and unreasonably dangerous, and that tobacco companies knew about it long before they let the public know. The 37 plaintiffs, mainly Missouri hospitals, seek $500 million in damages from 11 tobacco companies.
The case has been delayed for nearly 13 years because of pretrial motions. Huge amounts of money are at stake, and large teams of lawyers are working for both sides. The case is expected to take as long as seven months, which lengthened the jury selection process as the court looked for people who could reasonably be available for so long. In opening statements, an attorney for the plaintiffs said tobacco company documents show they knew about the harm cigarettes can cause as early as the 1950s, but continued to sell them. The defense attorney who spoke conceded that tobacco companies have not always behaved well, but said the hospitals aren’t the ones who were damaged by that behavior. In fact, she argued, hospitals have made money from the ill effects of cigarettes on patients’ health. She also said a dangerous product is not necessarily a defective one; knives used to cut fruit can also cut fingers.
As a Missouri defective product lawyer, I don’t believe that analogy is right. Knives are tools that can be used for good purposes as well as to harm. Cigarettes don’t have a purpose other than pleasure, and they are harmful even when used as directed. And unlike kitchen knives, people not addicted to cigarettes can easily live without them. In cases involving defective products, people who were hurt by those products generally make the claim that they had a reasonable belief that the products were safe. All manufacturers have a legal obligation to make sure the products they offer the public are safe when used correctly, or warn the public when they can’t remove a danger. In this case, the hospitals are saying tobacco companies failed in that duty and they sustained damages – unpaid hospital bills – as a result. Whether that argument impresses the jury has yet to be seen.
Carey, Danis & Lowe has a special focus on lawsuits involving defective or dangerous products, or failure to warn about a product’s danger. This area of the law applies to almost any consumer good – clothing, toys, food, prescription and over-the-counter drugs, household furnishings and much more. Federal regulators are responsible for regulating the safety of many of these products, but unfortunately, they aren’t always ahead of the companies they regulate. And even when they do take action, people who have already been hurt by a defective product cannot benefit. Our southern Illinois dangerous product attorneys help clients recover compensation for the costs and pain of their injuries. That includes medical costs and lost income as well as compensation for pain, suffering and any death or disability.
If you or someone you love was seriously hurt by a defective product in Missouri or Illinois, Carey, Danis & Lowe can help. To learn more about us or set up a free consultation, send us a message online or call toll-free at 1-877-678-3400.