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Tobacco companies win again in W.Va.

Tobacco companies won a big victory against smoker plaintiffs in Kanawha Circuit Wednesday - essentially by arguing, as the defense lawyer did, that cigarettes "are a naturally dangerous product and can't be made safe, and that everyone has known they are dangerous and addictive for a very long time."   

The jury's decision is a blow to the lawsuit lottery

industry in West Virginia.

But it is a victory for common sense. Barring some deception or defect in a product, people shouldn't win compensation for known risks they took voluntarily.

After hearing four weeks of argument in the

13-year-old case, a jury found that R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris, Lorillard, American Tobacco and Brown and Williamson were not liable for the ill-nesses suffered by smokers who used their products.

Jurors decided the companies:

  • Were not negligent.
  • Did not design defective products.
  • Did not fraudulently withhold information about their products.
  • Did not fail to warn smokers of the dangers.
  • Did make reasonable attempts to make cigarettes safer with the use of filters, changes in paper, and changes in tobacco treatment.
  • Should not have to pay punitive damages.
Only one of the plaintiffs' six claims survived the jury's scrutiny - the assertion that the companies should have informed people that lipstick could clog the holes in ventilated cigarettes manufactured between 1964 and 1969.

Thus, only about 100 of the original 700 claims

included in the case will go forward.

This is the second time a West Virginia jury has found for tobacco companies and against plaintiffs.

An Ohio County jury ruled for tobacco companies in 2001, deciding they should not be responsible for medically monitoring smokers to see if smoking were the cause of their health problems.

The state Supreme Court upheld that verdict.

This latest outcome could have a chilling effect on the lawsuit lottery industry in West Virginia.

But it could also take some of the heat out of West Virginia's reputation for being a "tort hell."

That perception has damaged the state's existing industries and its ability to attract new ones.


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