Tobacco Settlement Bars Smokers’ Punitive Damage Claims

A court has just ruled that a multibillion dollar tobacco settlement bars punitive damages in lawsuits by smokers against tobacco companies. In 1998, 46 states entered into a tobacco settlement with the major tobacco companies, which agreed to pay the States roughly $250 billion over the first 25 years of the settlement, and more in perpetuity.

Federal district judge Charles Brieant has just ruled in Mulholland v. Philip Morris that smokers in New York can’t seek punitive damages against the tobacco companies, because New York is one of the states that joined that tobacco settlement, known as the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA), which the judge ruled bars further punitive damages claims in member states under the theory of res judicata.

The Georgia Supreme Court has also held that the MSA bars punitive damages in lawsuits brought by smokers, in its ruling in Brown & Williamson v. Gault (2006).

By contrast, the Florida Supreme Court held that in Florida, which did not join the multistate MSA but reached its own multibillion dollar settlement with the tobacco companies, smokers can still seek punitive damages against tobacco companies.