May 24, 2024

Jury Rejects Missouri Hospitals’ Case Against Tobacco Firms

About 40 Missouri hospitals sued the Philip Morris unit of the Altria Group, the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, the Lorillard Tobacco Company and other cigarette makers in 1998, claiming they manipulated the nicotine content in cigarettes and misrepresented the health effects of smoking. The hospitals were seeking more than $455 million in damages, ranging from about $300,000 for some hospitals to $86.4 million for the Truman Medical Center in Kansas City, Mo.

The hospitals argued that the industry’s actions had raised spending for unreimbursed and uncompensated tobacco-related health care. The tobacco companies denied any responsibility for patient care costs at the hospitals or any financial losses by the hospitals. The jury, in Missouri Circuit Court in St. Louis, rejected the hospitals’ claims on a 9-3 vote Friday in the seventh day of deliberations.

“The jury correctly rejected the entirety of the hospital’s claims,” Murray Garnick, associate general counsel for Altria Client Services, said in a statement. The jury agreed with Philip Morris “that ordinary cigarettes are not negligently designed or defective,” he said.

The hospitals haven’t decided whether to appeal, their lawyer, Kenneth Brostron, said.

The case is the third such health care cost-recovery claim to reach trial, according to regulatory filings by Altria. The tobacco industry won the first, in Ohio, in 1999. The second initially resulted in a $17.8 million award for a health insurer by a New York jury in 2001. That was reversed on appeal in 2004.

The Missouri suit, which did not include patients as plaintiffs, went to trial in January.

The hospitals, which provide care to indigent patients and others who do not pay, represent the majority of licensed, adult acute care hospital beds in Missouri, according to the complaint. The hospitals said medical ethics required them to serve people in need regardless of their ability to pay.

Tobacco companies should reimburse the hospitals for care provided to patients who were unable to pay and were suffering from tobacco-related illness, the plaintiffs said. Hospitals also should “recover the increased costs incurred to providing all health care services” as a result of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke, according to the complaint.

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