Hospitals Lose in Big Tobacco Money Grab in St. Louis Court

bacall smoking.jpg
Just because you light up doesn't mean Big Tobacco has to share the cost of your subsequent hospital care, a St. Louis jury decided today.
After thirteen years of litigation, three months of trial and just over six days of jury deliberations, a group of 37 area hospitals have struck out in their attempts to force Big Tobacco to pay up.

The hospitals were seeking $455 million, saying the sum was necessary since the hospitals have to foot the bill for patients suffering from smoking-related illness who don't have the money to cover their own treatment. But the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the jury has now issued a series of verdicts in the complicated case, ruling in favor of the tobacco companies in every single one.

As Business Week has reported, the case, the City of St. Louis v. American Tobacco, was the third such attempt by U.S. hospitals/third-party payers to make it to trial. To say they've been less than successful is an understatement.

The first, in 1999, was filed in Ohio and also won by the tobacco companies; while an insurance group prevailed in a similar attempt, in 2001, their $17.8 million victory was overturned by the appellate court. (That said, other than the precedent it might set, we highly doubt that the attorneys involved considered $17.8 million all that big a victory anyway.)

And, as the Post-Dispatch reported earlier this year, another 160 or so cases had been filed around the country, making similar claims. The St. Louis case was one of the few to overcome enough hurdles to make it to this point.

As we reported last year, the case was originally expected to last six months, and the St. Louis City Circuit Court actually sent letters to 6,000 prospective jurors, asking whether they could be available for such a lengthy trial. However, today's verdict wraps things up in roughly half that time.

So do you think there's any chance the failure will convince trial lawyers to stop bringing these kinds of cases -- that they now "get" that juries are simply unwilling to hold tobacco companies responsible for hospital bills of smokers who consciously chose to use their (still legal) products?

The key phrase here is probably "trial lawyers." Which makes us conclude that the answer is probably "no freakin' way."

In fact, we bet they're already plotting their appeal.


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