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Tobacco dodges a bullet
July 5, 2001: 1:55 p.m. ET

Federal judge denies class-action certification in four tobacco lawsuits
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NEW YORK (CNNfn) - A federal judge has decided not to certify four lawsuits against tobacco companies, three of which involved casino workers, as class-action suits, Philip Morris said Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Philip M. Pro said "the claims advanced by the representative plaintiffs as well as those of the proposed members of the plaintiff classes are replete with individual issues" which would not satisfy the requirements for a class-action suit.

One case involved smokers, and the other three were filed on behalf of nonsmoking casino workers exposed to secondhand smoke.

"Courts continue to recognize that class actions are inappropriate in tobacco litigation because of the overwhelming number of individual issues," said William Ohlemeyer, vice president and associate general counsel for Philip Morris (MO: down $0.93 to $46.87, Research, Estimates). "Medical monitoring class actions are simply no different."

R.J. Reynolds (RJR: down $1.32 to $55.03, Research, Estimates) said other defendants in the cases included: Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., a unit of British American Tobacco PLC; Lorillard Tobacco Co., a unit of Loews Corp. (LTR: down $0.19 to $62.74, Research, Estimates); American Tobacco Co.; and Liggett Group Inc., a unit of Vector Group Ltd. (VGR: up $0.30 to $32.75, Research, Estimates).

"This decision and many other similar rulings in both state and federal courts reflect the consensus that these kinds of class actions should not be certified," said Daniel Donahue, senior vice president and deputy general counsel for Reynolds Tobacco.

Of the more than 100 tobacco cases filed since 1994 seeking class-action status, only seven classes are now certified, Philip Morris said.

The industry is challenging all of those classes except one, the Broin flight attendant case in Miami. The companies are defending Broin-related claims and defeated the first of about 3,2000 individual claims in April, when a jury ruled the companies had no liability for the lung ailments of a nonsmoking former flight attendant.

Shares of most tobacco-related companies were down at midday on Thursday, the day after Italy's competition regulator said it had opened an investigation into cigarette companies operating in the Italian market on the suspicion of price fixing. Philip Morris and British American Tobacco are among those under investigation.  graphic

-- from staff and wire reports