What have been the results of the Master Settlement Agreement since the settlement occurred?
The purpose was to help the states recover Medicare and Medicaid costs for publicly insured victims of tobacco-related diseases. By signing the MSA, states' attorneys general gave up the right to make legal claims against the tobacco companies for violating state antitrust laws and laws related to consumer protections. The participating tobacco companies agreed to change their marketing strategies to avoid advertising directly or indirectly to minors. Over the years, the tobacco companies have continued to meet their obligations in two ways: (1) by reimbursing the states for healthcare costs incurred from tobacco use, and (2) by showing they have increased spending on youth anti-smoking programs in the amount of $100 million annually.
The settlement prompted the companies to raise the price of tobacco. Following the agreement, the four principal tobacco companies—Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson, and Lorillard—raised their prices more than 45tf per pack to cover the additional costs. The higher costs lead to a reduction in teenage smoking. The rates of smoking among American adolescents have reached their lowest point in nearly three decades, following the increased cost of cigarettes plus the development of anti-smoking educational programs.
Am I eligible for any legal compensation for a smoking-related illness since the MSA?
The intent of the MSA was to shield tobacco companies from further liability. However there have continued to be a number of lawsuits filed since the MSA was established in 1998. Some of these lawsuits have been class action, where a group or class of individuals is represented by an attorney and any awards are distributed across the class, including those who may not have directly been involved in the litigation. Other lawsuits have been individual, with the award going entirely to the individual or his or her estate. Whether or not a particular lawsuit is class action or individual is largely determined by the state where the group or individual resides. In 2004, a New York jury awarded $20 million to the wife of a long- term smoker who died of lung cancer. This was the first time in the history of New York that such litigation occurred. The most recent case, Philip Morris v. Williams, was heard by the Supreme Court in 2006 with a decision rendered February 20, 2007. In that case, an Oregon jury had awarded the widow of a deceased smoker $79.5 million in punitive damages. The defendant, Philip Morris, argued successfully that this was tantamount to taking property without due process and the Supreme Court reversed the decision on the award.
A plethora of Web sites feature personal injury attorneys supporting your right to sue, including those who specialize in tobacco. These lawsuits vary from state to state as civil laws differ in each state. As recently as 2002, for example, in California one could sue tobacco companies for fraud and negligence. Evidence that the industry altered tobacco with additives to make it more addictive would be admissible regardless of the industries' past protection from lawsuits. Most of these lawsuits, particularly since the master settlement agreement, have been unsuccessful. The Supreme Court reversal is but one example. In 2005, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed a $10 billion judgment against a tobacco company regarding the misleading statements that light cigarettes were safer to use. In January 2008, the Florida Supreme Court mandated a filing deadline for all tobacco related injury cases, as it would no longer hear any cases submitted after that date. The bottom line is that the window of opportunity is running out and one must first consult an attorney before proceeding further.