Decade-Old Smoking Lawsuit to Be Heard in Boston This Week

In a class-action suit, smokers are calling for Philip Morris to pay for lung cancer screenings.

In 2006, Massachusetts smokers sued the cigarette maker Philip Morris, alleging that Marlboro cigarettes could have been made more safely and with fewer carcinogens.

Starting this week, the case is resurfacing in Boston, where it will be heard by a jury in federal court. But the jury will not be deliberating on monetary damages; instead, it will decide whether Philip Morris should be required to pay for advanced chest scans that can detect early-stage lung cancer.

In a 2014 district court hearing, the plaintiffs argued that “no amount of money damages could provide a remedy as complete, certain and efficient as” the chest scans. On the other hand, lawyers for Philip Morris have argued in past hearings that, because the dangers of smoking in general are widely known, the company should not be held liable for financing smokers’ medical screenings.

The case will be heard in two stages. First, the jury will decide whether the Marlboro cigarettes—which plaintiffs claim were made defectively, and could have been produced more safely—were, indeed, excessively dangerous. If they are found to be, the jury will then deliberate on whether and how the smokers should receive medical tests.

When a judge decided the case could be heard as a class-action suit—filed by habitual Marlboro smokers at least 50 years old who had not been diagnosed with lung cancer—in 2010, many health insurance plans did not cover the type of scans at issue in the case. More recently, however, more plans, including Medicare, have begun to do so.

Still, Northeastern University law professor Richard Daynard told AP that technological advances in medical screening could help the case come out in favor of the plaintiffs, a result not common in similar suits.

“What’s happened is you have better technology which captures the tumors at a much earlier stage where there’s a very good chance that if you get them that the person … is probably not going to die from it,” Daynard said.

The case begins tomorrow at 9 a.m. and will be heard by Judge Denise Casper.