In a major victory for the tobacco industry, a federal judge has dismissed the first personal-injury class-action suit against cigarette companies brought under the powerful federal racketeering law.
Victor Han, a Philip Morris Cos. spokesman who announced the ruling Tuesday, said the industry considers the ruling significant because the case was the first to test the use of the statute in tobacco litigation and the judge soundly rejected the strategy.
Several other personal-injury class-action cases are pending across the country, alleging that cigarette companies have conspired to conceal that nicotine is addictive. The recent ruling could discourage plaintiffs' lawyers in those suits from adding racketeering charges.
Although the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act is most commonly associated with criminal mobster and drug cases, the statute also allows individuals to seek treble damages in civil cases if a pattern of wrongdoing can be established.
U.S. District Judge Irma Gonzalez of San Diego said that under RICO, the plaintiffs must allege injury to business or property and that the U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that personal injuries do not fall into either category.