Potential smoking liability cases thrown into doubt in Europe

The outcome of potential smoking liability cases in Europe has been thrown into doubt after a widow lost her claim for damages against the tobacco company she blames for her husband's death from lung cancer.

The judge in rejecting the claim, said the health risks of smoking had been well known nearly 30 years before the man had died.

Margaret McTear, the 58 yer old widow, sued Imperial Tobacco for £500,000, saying it failed to warn her husband about the dangers of smoking cigarettes. Her husband Alfred who began smoking in the 1960s, died of lung cancer in 1993 aged 48, not long after initiating a civil suit.

The case was Britain's first smoking liability trial, and at the 40-day hearing at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, Imperial Tobacco denied all blame, saying McTear was aware of the health risks.

Lord Nimmo Smith in his summary of the 1,121-page judgment, said McTear's case failed on every issue on which was needed to find in her favour to hold the defenders liable for damages.

He said he was satisfied that by 1964, the general public in the United Kingdom were well aware of the health risks associated with smoking, and in particular of the view that smoking could cause lung cancer.

He was also satisfied that Mr McTear was aware well before 1971, when health warnings were first required on cigarette packs, of the publicity about the health risks associated with smoking, and as with many other aspects of his life, he chose to ignore it.

Nimmo Smith dismissed McTear's claim that Imperial Tobacco failed in its duty of care to consumers of its products.

McTear's lawyer, Cameron Fyfe, said 120 similar cases being dealt with by his firm would not proceed, despite successes in the United States, and recently in Italy, where the judge came to totally different conclusions.

Although individuals and groups have successfully brought multi-million dollar cases against tobacco companies in America, similar successes have been rare in Europe.

An effort to bring a group action on behalf of lung cancer patients against Imperial collapsed in 1999 when a court ruled that many of the plaintiffs had filed their claims too late.

A spokesperson for Imperial Tobacco said the company hoped the verdict would "act as a deterrent to any further speculative claims in the future".


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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