April 15, 2011 Background:
March 9, 2011 - Saint Louis, Missouri - 37 hospitals suing tobacco companies..
September 10, 2010 - St. Louis, Missouri - lawsuit by hospitals after 12 years to go to trial January 2011..
The tobacco industry owes millions in healthcare - at least that’s what Missouri hospitals say. According to the hospitals, the tobacco industry has cost them millions of dollars in healthcare for patients being treated for smoking-related illnesses who can’t pay their medical expenses.
More than 40 area hospitals, along with the city of St. Louis, sued Altria Group Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and other cigarette makers back in 1998, claiming that the tobacco giants manipulated the nicotine content in cigarettes and did not properly inform consumers of the risks associated with smoking.
Kenneth Brostron, a lawyer for the hospitals, said the tobacco companies should take responsibility for their actions. But the tobacco companies deny any responsibility for patient care costs and any financial losses to the hospitals.
The lawsuit went to trial in January and is the third such claim to reach trial. The first, in Ohio in 1999, was won by the tobacco industry. The second trial resulted in the awarding of $17.8 million to a health insurer in New York in 2001. The decision was reversed on appeal in 2004.
Thirty-seven of the more than 40 hospitals in Missouri remain in the lawsuit. They are seeking approximately $455 million from the tobacco industry. Due to the fact that the trial may last six to seven months, the court has sent out surveys to 6,000 potential jurors to find 12 people who can commit for such a long time. The court is hoping to pull together a pool of about 600 from the surveys and then begin sorting out those based on biases.
More than 30 hospitals are seeking $1 billion from cigarette makers, claiming their products caused serious, preventable illnesses that the hospitals were forced to treat. They say the money will go towards recovering funds spent on treating uninsured patients and those who did not pay their medical bills, going back to 1993. The cigarette companies argue that because the hospitals did not suffer direct damage from cigarettes, they should not be allowed to collect money for other people’s problems. The case could be precedent-setting for similar cases around the country.
Both sides have been going through pretrial arguments for nearly 12 years, since the hospitals first filed their lawsuit in November 1998. (CITY OF ST. LOUIS, et al., Plaintiffs, v. AMERICAN TOBACCO COMPANY, INC., et al., Defendants. No. 4:98CV02087 ERW, July 2, 1999))
In 2001, Judge Michael Calvin ruled that the case was worthy of a jury trial, but it has been stalled in the “discovery” stage ever since, as the two sides battle to produce admissible evidence.
Experts expect it to set precedents for similar cases across the country, as it is the only one of its kind to leap some legal hurdles that killed more than 160 similar cases in courts across the country.
The hospitals are seeking to recover losses for patients treated since 1993, which is potentially $1 billion.
Initially, the plaintiffs were 44 hospitals, including most of the major facilities in St. Louis, plus the city itself on behalf of its clinics and the now-closed City Hospital. Nearly a dozen have since dropped out for various reasons.
References: 12-Year-Long Lawsuit by Hospitals against Tobacco Companies Inches Towards Jury Selection, Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky, ALLGOV.com, 9/8/20-10; Giant jury pool considered for big-stakes St. Louis trial by HEATHER RATCLIFFE (firstname.lastname@example.org), stltoday.com, 9/3/2010.
Reference: Tobacco Industry Under Fire for Patients Who Can't Pay Their Medical Bills By Roberta Seldon , ThirdAge.com