Butler, et al. v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., et al.,

The nonsmoking owner of a barber shop in Jackson, MS, filed suit on October 21, 1992 against 13 tobacco companies alleging that his lung cancer was caused by years of exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke.  Noting that the companies never warned nonsmokers about the dangers of passive smoke, the owner, along with his wife, sued the companies on the grounds of negligence, breach of warranty, fraud, misrepresentation and strict liability.  The Butlers seek $25 million in compensatory damages and $100 million in punitive damages.  See Nicholson, J., “Second-Hand Smoking Suit Marks New Generation of Cases,” Indoor Pollution Law Report, November 1992, 7; Cohen, L.P. and Freedman, A.M., “Tobacco Plaintiffs Face a Grilling,” Wall Street Journal, February 11, 1993, A6; Kessler, G., “Burl Butler Is Dying; He Blames Secondhand Smoke and Is Suing.  Will His and Other Two Suits Sting the Tobacco Giants,?” Newsday, March 14, 1993, 80; and Langston-Lott, C., “Attorneys Plan to Smoke Out the Tobacco Industry,” Indoor Pollution Law Report, April 1993, 1, 5.  Plaintiffs’ motion to remand was granted at 815 F. Supp. 982 (S.D. Miss. 1993)

Five days after Mr. Butler died on May 7, 1994, a $650 million wrongful death lawsuit was filed by his widow.  The complaint in Estate of Earl Butler, et al. v. Philip Morris et al., MS Cir Ct., 2nd Judicial Dist., Civ. Action No 90-4-53, alleges that as a result of the design, testing, manufacturing, marketing and assembly choices and practices of the defendants, tobacco products are defective and unreasonably dangerous.  Also, the defendants failed to effectively warn “innocent nonsmoking bystanders” — like Mr. Butler — about the harm of breathing secondhand tobacco smoke.  See “Tobacco Companies Hit With Suit Over Second-Hand Cigarette Smoke,” Investor’s Business Daily, May 16, 1994, B16.  In March, 1996, the plaintiffs were allowed to amend the complaint to add new defendants.  See Ward, J., “Talc Firms Added to Tobacco Suit,” Louisville Courier-Journal, March 30, 1996, C1 and C3.  See also Geyelin, M., “Tobacco Plaintiff Files Suit Against Her Ex-Attorney,” Wall Street Journal, August 19, 1997, B8.

The trial began on May 10, 1999.  See Beverly, K., “Defense: Cancer Not From Smoke,” Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, MS), May 12, 1999, 1B; “Widow Says 2nd-hand, Barber Shop Smoke Deadly,” Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN), May 13, 1999, A15; and “Pathologist Sticks to Lung Cancer Finding,” Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN), May 14, 1999, A14.  On June 2, 1999, the jury, by an 11 to 1 vote, returned a verdict for the defendants.  See “Jury Rejects Late Barber’s Cancer Claim,” Los Angeles Times, June 3, 1999, C3; “No Liability Is Found in Secondhand-Smoke Case,” New York Times, June 3, 1999, A16; “Tobacco Industry Not Liable in Second-hand Smoke Death,” Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN), June 3, 1999, A15; and “Tobacco Industry Ruled Not Liable in Mississippi Case,” Wall Street Journal, June 3, 1999, A6.

On June 14, 1999, the family filed a motion for a new trial, arguing that they should have been allowed to present deposition testimony of Philip Morris scientist Those Osdene, former Brown & Williamson vice president for research Jeffrey Wigand and Liggett CEO Bennett LeBow.  See Beverly, K., “Butler’s Family Asks for New Trial,” Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, MS), July 1, 1999, 1B; “Family Seeks New Trial in Barbershop Lawsuit,” Biloxi (MS) Sun Herald, July 3, 1999.  One of the attorneys for the plaintiff (Cynthia Langston) and a Jones County trial judge (Billy Joe Landrum) sued Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co. and other tobacco companies for allegedly gaining access to their individual telephone records in a scheme to discredit them.  See Curriden, M., “Attorney, Judge Suing Tobacco Firm,” Dallas Morning News, August 8, 1999, 1A; “Lawyer, Judge Sue Tobacco Firms for Privacy Invasion,” Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN), August 12, 1999, A12.

Miss. Cir. Ct., 1st Dist., Hinds Co., (1992)