26 Sep 1997 Legal Brief: Firm Penalized $2.5 Billion for Accident They Did Not Cause and in Which No One Was Hurt; Scientific Evidence Weak for Plaintiffs in Nation’s Largest Class Action Suit; Legal Reform Under Assault; Husband Asks Federal Court to Stop Wife from Smoking
According to Liability Week (September 15), the incident forced 8,000 people to be evacuated from their homes overnight and led to a class-action suit filed by attorneys the same day alleging that nearby residents had suffered physical and mental anguish. Other companies involved were found liable for more than $1 billion in compensatory damages. CSX president and chief executive A.R. “Pete” Carpenter maintained that the verdict was “clearly inconsistent with the facts” and would be appealed.
The Detroit News (August 21) notes that numerous studies cast “severe doubts” on the plaintiffs’ claims, citing a 1994 Mayo Clinic study which found no link between implants and connective tissue diseases and a 1995 New England Journal of Medicine study of 87,500 nurses, which found no association. The group included 516 women with connective tissue diseases, of which three had breast implants. This proportion was no higher than in women without implants.
The suit was thrown out of court, but individual trial lawyers filed dozens of other protest cases, raised $800,000 to fight the case in the state Supreme Court (hiring Harvard’s Laurence Tribe to argue it) and made extensive campaign contributions to Democrats, helping them gain a slim majority in the state House over the reform-minded GOP.
According to an August Associated Press story, tobacco smoke is not regulated under the Clean Air Act, but Thomas is undeterred. He says he’s filing to lawsuit because he loves his wife, and will drop the suit if she quits voluntarily.
Thomas’s attorney, Christopher Helt, hopes Mrs. Thomas doesn’t quit so federal courts will regulate tobacco smoking by individuals. “I’d like to see this issue resolved by the courts,” he said.*
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