South Carolina wrongful death lawyers find the settlement in this tobacco case particularly interesting because it is the first wrongful death suit of its kind. In recent memory lawsuits have been filed against big tobacco for their production of cigarettes, but this suit was filed against makers of smokeless, chewable tobacco products. In past lawyers focused primarily on cigarette producers because of stronger evidence to back their claims that cigarettes were directly correlated with causes of death.
The makers of Skoal and Copenhagen, the U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company, have settled with the family of a Canton, North Carolina man for $5 million. The man began chewing tobacco when he became a teenager and died from mouth cancer in 2003 at the age of 42. With such lucrative results in this case it is believed that similar, subsequent lawsuits will be filed against Altria, the firm that acquired U.S. Smokeless Tobacco last year, and other smokeless tobacco producers. This proves that plaintiffs, who have suffered wrongful death and serious injury, can target makers of Skoal, Copenhagen, and the like, and be successful.
The case was initially filed by the Canton man’s wife in 2005 a couple of years after he died from cancer of the tongue. Leading up to his death he had had multiple surgeries to remove his tongue. It is highly common for mouth cancer patients to lose parts of their mouth, either from surgical procedures to remove cancerous regions or the tissue in the mouth simply wastes away.
The strength of this case was that the man had practically been a lifetime user of chewing tobacco and that he did not smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol, factors tobacco companies tend to point to as the cause of cancer, not their products. Furthermore the plaintiff’s attorney had previously undisclosed letters sent from U.S. Smokeless Tobacco to minors thanking them for using their products, sending them free samples, and even a can opener to one minor to help open their chew.
It could also be that Altria wanted to resolve any leftover legal issues from their acquisition and found it cheaper to settle than to let it play out in court, risking the possibility of paying an even larger reward.
At any rate this comes at an unfortunate time for big tobacco as they have been trying to curb proposals for tougher warning labels on their dangerous products that are were trying to be marketed as a less harmful alternative to cigarettes.
Those injured by tobacco products should consult with an attorney to determine their legal rights. In wrongful death actions the deceased’s estate and/or family members may be entitled to a host of damages including, but not limited to, loss of earnings, loss of enjoyment of life, as well as a loss of consortium for the loss of services to their spouses. These are but a few of the damages that can be claimed and anyone affected by the death of a loved one through the use of tobacco products should move quickly to protect their rights regarding these and other damages.
The statute of limitations begins to run from the date of the accident, in this case likely the time period when person negatively affected by the use of tobacco products knew, or should have known, the tobacco products caused him harm. This time period in many cases begins to run when the deceased was diagnosed with the harmful repercussions of their tobacco use. Again, those interested should contact their lawyer to learn the rules on the statute of limitations, damages, and other significant issues and move quickly to protect their legal interests.