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Massachusetts high court rejects tobacco company 'unreasonable use' defense

[JURIST] The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court [official website] ruled [text; oral argument video] Thursday that tobacco giant Philip Morris Inc. [corporate website] cannot avoid liability in a wrongful death lawsuit by claiming that smokers should know that cigarettes are dangerous. Brenda Haglund had sued the tobacco company for the wrongful death of her husband. The court said that her lawsuit could proceed because the so-called “personal choice defense" can only be used if a consumer used a product in an unreasonable way. The court ruled unanimously that “because no cigarette can be safely used for its ordinary purpose, smoking, there can be no nonunreasonable use of cigarettes.” The court added, however, that it would not block the use of the personal choice defense in every case related to smoking, and would allow it when a person’s behavior was “overwhelmingly unreasonable,” such as when a person with emphysema begins smoking.

The defense has been the tobacco industry’s most successful defense to date in wrongful death lawsuits. AP has more.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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