Justice Department Tobacco Civil Suit Faces Long Road
The Wall Street Journal takes an in-depth look at the Justice
Department's civil lawsuit against the tobacco industry and
notes that the federal government, despite spending five times
more than the states do on smoking-related illnesses, is not as
well positioned legally, politically and procedurally as the
There are several legal theories which could serve
as the basis for the suit, but each require leaps of logic and
backdoor strategies, which aren't supported by some Justice
Some of the lawyers consider the Medical
Care Recovery Act (MCRA) to be the best approach to recouping
the $22 billion a year the federal government spends on
MCRA gives the government the right
to sue to recover medical costs in certain cases, but
it has never been used to recover Medicare expenses, or to
combine individual cases into a single group action.
to Public Citizen lawyer David Vladeck, "If the Justice
Department can't use aggregate proof, they're not going to get
To strengthen their case, the Justice Department has supported
legislation that clarifies the federal government's authority
to file a nationwide suit.
The White House has dropped the
idea, fearing that seeking such a law would show weakness.
Brown & Williamson lawyer David Bernick says that even if the
courts allowed a nationwide suit on tobacco, the U.S. would have
to do more than just prove that smoking costs the government
money. "It's got to show that the industry's wrongful conduct
caused an increased level of consumption, and here's how much
that cost. And they can't show that."
If the Justice Department is successful in bringing its case,
there will be great pressure for the tobacco industry to settle.
John Coale, an antitobacco plaintiffs' lawyer who advises the
White House says, "Nothing's crystal-clear. If you get by a
motion to dismiss and a summary judgement, I think [the tobacco
industry] will buckle. But getting by those things is going to
be a battle."
Source: WALL STREET JOURNAL, (5/27/99) "US Faces Hurdles To Recovering Tobacco Heath Costs",
David Cloud, p. A28
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