Insurers Should Weigh In On The Tobacco Talks

Your apt commentary notes that the wrong parties are negotiating society's best chance to nail down tobacco's responsibilities to its past and present consumers ("Tobacco: Don't jump at this deal," Legal Affairs, May 12). Notably missing in action are insurers of Big Tobacco. For decades, tobacco makers have crafted ways around every constraint society has attempted to place on them. If insurers do not weigh in on these negotiations, the tobacco companies will negotiate a liability scenario aimed at tapping their insurers for a portion of the damages and defense costs of future consumer litigation.

Reports on these negotiations already indicate the manufacturers' efforts to limit future lawsuits to cases of fraud or negligent misrepresentation, not product liability. Insurers have long excluded product liability for tobacco, but they may find themselves defending and indemnifying tobacco companies for other liabilities that survive the current global settlement negotiations. With estimated annual legal defense costs of $600 million, tobacco manufacturers have plenty of incentive to look to their insurers for contribution.

John R. Cashin

Executive Vice-President

Willis Faber North America Inc.

New York