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Thompson Coburn leads Lorillard to defense victory in West Virginia tobacco trial

May 16, 2013

A near-complete defense victory capped more than 15 years of work by a Thompson Coburn Consumer Products trial team for client Lorillard Tobacco. Five major tobacco companies were named in the case, filed by 700 West Virginia smokers who tried to establish they were harmed by using tobacco.

On May 15, a jury deliberated less than four hours before entering a defense verdict on all but one of the six claims filed against the tobacco companies.

The month-long trial was the fourth attempt at trying the case; all three earlier attempts resulted in mistrials.

“This is a great victory for Lorillard and the other defendants,” said Mike Minton, a Thompson Coburn partner and lead attorney for Lorillard. “After repeated attempts to bring this case to trial, we are proud and gratified that the jury has carefully considered the issues and rejected the majority of the plaintiffs’ claims.”

This most recent trial is particularly noteworthy, Minton said, because Lorillard and the defendants were unable to present evidence related to a key defense in nearly all tobacco litigation: The fact that individual plaintiffs made the personal choice to smoke.

Despite that significant obstacle, the West Virginia jury found against the smokers on claims of failure to warn, negligence, design defect, breach of warranty, fraudulent concealment, and entitlement to punitive damages. The jurors found for the plaintiffs on one question related to the sale of ventilated filter cigarettes.

Thompson Coburn also secured a significant victory in the course of the litigation during one of the previous mistrials. In that trial, Lorillard successfully excluded two of the plaintiffs’ addiction experts. Thompson Coburn attorneys argued that if the defendants could not raise the issue of personal choice, then the plaintiffs should not be allowed to present evidence claiming that nicotine affected a person’s ability to forgo smoking.

The West Virginia verdict follows a 2011 victory that Thompson Coburn secured for Lorillard in the Circuit Court for the City of St. Louis. Nearly 40 hospitals sued Lorillard and other tobacco companies, seeking to recover billions of dollars for treating smokers who were medically indigent or did not pay their medical bills. Missouri Lawyers Weekly named the case the top defense verdict in Missouri for 2011.