Editorials

Those cigarettes were bad for me?

Madison County was labeled a judicial hellhole as a result of a class-action lawsuit over whether smokers were tricked into thinking Marlboro Lights and other “light” brands were healthier than regular cigarettes. The 17-year effort by local lawyers to get and save their $10.1 billion judgment ended in failure a week ago.
Madison County was labeled a judicial hellhole as a result of a class-action lawsuit over whether smokers were tricked into thinking Marlboro Lights and other “light” brands were healthier than regular cigarettes. The 17-year effort by local lawyers to get and save their $10.1 billion judgment ended in failure a week ago. Provided

Oh, woe, that the knights of the benighted have lost their $10.1 billion joust with the smoke-breathing dragons of Tobaccoland. An epic tale it was.

For nearly 17 years Stephen Tillery and his firm pursued Philip Morris, claiming that their “light” cigarettes fooled lead plaintiff Sharon Price and 1.1 million other smokers into thinking Marlboro Lights and other brands were healthier for them than regular cancer sticks. But the Illinois Supreme Court and now the U.S. Supreme Court have found that the legal champions failed to prove any unique harm from the lighter flavor enjoyed by cowboys or that Illinois Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier was biased against them.

This was actually the second time the Supremes refused to hear the case: The first was in 2006 after the Illinois Supreme Court initially tossed the case and then a week ago when Tillery tried an end run by claiming Karmeier showed bias during his run for the state high court.

This case was one of the nation’s largest civil judgments ever when now-retired Madison County Circuit Judge Nicholas Byron in 2003 handed the plaintiffs $10.1 billion, which would have dropped a $1.77 billion fee on the law firm. It also was the lead exhibit in the case against Madison County being named a judicial hellhole, plaintiff paradise and home of jackpot justice.

Madison County set itself up as a sweatshop for personal injury lawyers and became famous for making lawyers rich while class action plaintiffs got coupons. It became the punchline of a judicial joke.

So despite the righteous rhetoric in which the plaintiff lawyers are wrapping their holy smokes crusade — claiming the world has now embraced their claim that “light” is more harmful than regular — the fact is that they lost. They didn’t prove the harm, or that their clients were so naive that they smoked light cigarettes for their health, but they did harm to our area’s reputation.

The only saving grace is that we now look better because there’s less concentration here. Class-action bonanzas have moved on and spread out as every shyster in the nation is now advertising on TV that they can get you money for that medical device or asbestos or drug or online ticket or printer cartridge or ....

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