Altria Faces California Trial Over ‘Light’ Ads Group Suit
By Bill Callahan & Edvard Pettersson – Apr 22, 2013 12:00 AM ET
Altria Group Inc. (MO)’s Philip Morris U.S.A. unit, the maker of Marlboro Lights, faces a class-action trial in California over allegations smokers were misled by the company calling its cigarettes “light.”
The cigarette maker will defend itself at a nonjury trial scheduled to start today in state court in San Diego. The case was brought on behalf of California smokers of its “light” cigarettes from June 10, 1993, through April 23, 2001.
The case, filed in 1997, accused Philip Morris (PM) and other tobacco companies of making misleading statements about the health risks and addictiveness of smoking, and sought restitution for money that smokers spent on cigarettes.
Philip Morris U.S.A., based in Richmond, Virginia, is the only remaining defendant in the case and the only claim still at issue is that it made false statements concerning light cigarettes. California Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Prager will preside over the trial.
The plaintiffs allege Philip Morris deceptively marketed and labeled cigarettes as “light” and “low tar” because it created the false impression that these cigarettes were less dangerous than full-flavor ones, according to an April 19 court filing by Philip Morris.
The San Diego court ruled in 2004 that the smokers’ case couldn’t proceed as a class action, or group case, because some of the plaintiffs didn’t meet a requirement that they personally suffered injury or financial loss.
The California Supreme Court said in 2009 that even if the plaintiffs in the case didn’t meet the requirement, the case shouldn’t be decertified as a class action. Instead, the plaintiffs should be allowed to amend the lawsuit to redefine the group that is suing or find new class representatives.
The case is In re Tobacco Cases II, JCCP 4042, California Superior Court, County of San Diego.
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