California Court Rules Smoker’s Claim is ‘Time Barred’

June 5, 2008

A U.S. District Curt in California recently ruled that a smoker’s claim against cigarette manufacturers Philip Morris USA, Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Lorillard Tobacco Co. and Brown & Williamson Holdings Inc.; and Hill and Knowlton Inc. is time-barred by the “first injury” rule because her first smoking-related diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease occurred in 1989, more than a decade prior to when she filed her complaint.

According to Nikki Pooshs v. Phillip Morris USA Inc. et al., Nikki Pooshs smoked tobacco cigarettes from 1953 until 1991. She was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in 1989 and again in 1999; with periodontal disease in 1990; and with lung cancer in January 2003. She filed a claim against the cigarette manufacturers following the lung cancer diagnosis, alleging that alleges that when she began smoking, she was unaware of the true facts concerning the negative health effects of smoking and that defendants concealed the addictive nature of smoking cigarettes and the associated health hazards. As a result, she said she was unable to quit smoking for almost 40 years.

The defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff’s claims are time-barred. “California law provides that a limitations period begins to run when the claim ‘accrues,’ or when the cause of action is ‘complete with all of its elements[,]’ – or wrongdoing, causation, and harm. Norgart v. Upjohn Co., 21 Cal. 4th 383, 397-98 (1999). However, the ‘discovery rule’ can postpone accrual of a cause of action until the plaintiff either discovers the injury or has reason to discover it. Id. A plaintiff has ‘reason to discover’ a cause of action whenever he/she has reason to suspect a factual basis for its elements,” court documents state.

Based on her diagnoses, the defendants said the plaintiff should have known at least 1991, more than 12 years before she filed suit, of the risks of nicotine addiction.

The district court agreed, and granted the motion for summary judgment. “Since plaintiff cannot claim any damages or injury resulting from the ‘addiction’ claim, and since she was plainly aware that smoking caused health hazards at least by the time she was diagnosed with COPD in 1989 (and certainly by 1991, when she quit smoking), her claims of fraud and conspiracy are time-barred,” the court wrote.

Source: California Courts

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