One of two class action tobacco lawsuits in Utah has been dismissed, effectively leaving all claims for damages in one case.
The dismissed lawsuit was filed in January by a pair of Utah County teenagers who sought class action status on behalf of as many as 30,000 underage smokers in Utah.The following month, a second group of adult smokers filed a similar lawsuit against the nation's leading tobacco companies on behalf of all nicotine-dependant Utahns and survivors of those who have died of smoking-related illnesses.
Both lawsuits accused the tobacco companies of selling a defective product and conspiring to conceal the addictive properties and dangers of tobacco.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Dee Benson dismissed the teenagers' lawsuit at the request of both sides and ordered each side to bear its own costs.
H. Deloyd Bailey, one of the attorneys for the teenage plaintiffs, said his clients would be covered by the more comprehensive Salt Lake County litigation.
He said the teenagers' case hadn't been combined with the other lawsuit but rather it had been "subsumed" into the other. Bailey said he and his son, B. Seth Bailey, will no longer be involved in the litigation.
Attorney Brent V. Manning, who represents R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., disagreed with Bailey's description of the dismissal as a subsuming of actions. He said the two cases involved separate classes and definitions.
"In my view, the plaintiffs (in the teenagers' lawsuit) came to the realization that these kinds of mass torts where you try to combine unlike claims don't work and shouldn't be pursued," Manning said.
He said he suspects the plaintiffs simply realized how "difficult and inappropriate this kind of lawsuit is." Manning said to the extent that the Salt Lake County lawsuit has the same difficulties, the plaintiffs in that case should also consider dropping the litigation.
Originally filed in 4th District Court, the teenagers' lawsuit named 19 tobacco companies as defendants and sought up to $75,000 in damages per plaintiff. The Baileys said at the time that they filed the action on behalf of young people because because they are the most vulnerable class of smokers.
The suit alleged that tobacco companies committed fraud by misrepresenting the harmful nature of tobacco products. It also accused them of breach of duty to prevent minors from obtaining tobacco.
The other lawsuit was filed in 3rd District Court by a trio of law firms on behalf of four longtime smokers and all others similarly situated. It seeks damages for all Utahns who have been injured by smoking. It also demands that the tobacco companies establish a medical monitoring fund for smokers, finance smoking cessation programs and surrender at least five years of gross revenues from tobacco sales in Utah.
Also pending is a separate lawsuit filed by the state, which seeks reimbursement of tobacco-related Medicaid costs.