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New York Court of Appeals strikes down smoker requests for court-ordered health tests

Potential for future harm not a factor in determining current responsibility

Generally speaking, smoking is regarded as an unhealthy habit that will sooner or later lead to health complications. But a New York state court has ruled that, despite the potential for harm, cigarette manufacturers are not responsible for assisting their customer base in the monitoring of potentially related health effects.

The New York Court of Appeals ruled on Dec. 17 that it would not recognize a right to medical monitoring by smokers who had not yet come down with a related illness. The ruling was in response to a suit brought by four smokers in 2006 against Phillip Morris USA and its parent company Altria Group Inc. The smoker sought court-ordered scans and screenings for Marlboro smokers over the age of 50 in the state of New York, complements of Big Tobacco.

According to the filings, “The Complaints alleged that Philip Morris had the ability to employ ‘feasible alternative designs which would have drastically reduced the cancer causing content of Marlboro cigarettes,’” and were therefore responsible for assisting the maintenance of smoker health.

The court ruled 4-2 that Big Tobacco was not responsible for this. “A threat of future harm is insufficient to impose liability against a defendant in a tort context,” Judge Eugene Pigott Jr. said in his majority opinion. “The requirement that a plaintiff sustain physical harm before being able to recover in tort is a fundamental principle of our state’s tort system.

“We believe that the New York Court of Appeals correctly held that there is no basis under the law that supports creating a medical monitoring claim,” Murray Garnick, associate general counsel for Altria, said in a statement, Bloomberg reports. “In so ruling, the New York Court of Appeals has joined with many courts throughout the country in rejecting such a sweeping new cause of action.”

Those judges in the minority opinion felt that because of the advancement of technology and the revelations on the dangerous nature of cigarettes should require some level of attention from Big Tobacco.

“The common law must evolve with advances in scientific understanding to fashion relief and provide redress for wrongs newly understood, particularly when such relief can prevent devastating disease and death,” Chief Judge Jonathon Lippman wrote.

  

Check out these related stories on Big Tobacco rulings:

New York proposes age restriction on smoking

Supreme Court may hear free speech challenge to FDA’s authority to regulate tobacco

Tobacco companies and states reach agreement over payments

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