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Calif. court removes barrier to smoker lawsuits


SAN FRANCISCO—California's Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that plaintiffs are allowed to sue cigarette companies for physical injuries within two years of learning of an illness.

The Thursday decision in Leslie J. Grisham et al. vs. Phillip Morris U.S.A. Inc. et al. revives litigation that had been halted since 2002 when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that a smoker must sue within one year of becoming addicted under California law.

"We reject the proposition advanced by defendants...that the statute of limitations should have commenced on the physical injury claims as soon as Grisham discovered or should have discovered she was addicted to cigarettes," Justice Carlos R. Moreno wrote for the court.

A ruling that smokers must sue within a year of becoming addicted would have compelled them to either file groundless tort actions soon after discovering their addiction or risk losing their right to sue, the California Supreme Court ruled.

The decision stems from the combination of two cases, including one filed by Leslie Grisham, who started smoking during the early 1960s at the age of 13. Court records show she was diagnosed six years ago with emphysema and other health problems.

The cases now return to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.