The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Friday that smokers or their survivors may sue tobacco companies in state courts over health risks.
The ruling was believed to make Minnesota the first state to allow lawsuits over the industry promotion of the safety of smoking. The court said the warning on cigarette packages does not prevent lawsuits.The decision, considered likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court, reinstated a suit brought by John Forster, of Golden Valley, who sued the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. in April 1985 - two months before he died of lung cancer. The suit was dismissed in Hennepin County District Court on the grounds it was prohibited by federal law.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed this decision. The Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals except to rule that the federally required warning on cigarette packages prevents allegations that tobacco companies failed to warn adequately about health risks.
Michael Weiner, an attorney for Ann Forster, Forster's widow, said the decision leaves the heart of his case intact. He said Reynolds "lied to the public about the dangers of smoking, and the Supreme Court ruled that if we can prove they did that, then they are liable."