Altria Wins Appeals Court Ruling in New York Smokers Case

Smokers can’t use New York law to force tobacco giant Altria Group Inc.’s Philip Morris USA unit to pay for tests they claim would provide early detection of lung cancer, the state’s highest court ruled.

The New York Court of Appeals today said that the state doesn’t recognize a right to medical monitoring for smokers who aren’t yet sick. The suit was filed in 2006 by four smokers seeking court-ordered low-dose computed tomography, or CT, screening tests for Marlboro smokers over the age of 50 throughout the state.

A federal appeals court in Manhattan, applying New York law, asked the state’s highest court whether it would recognize a cause of action for medical monitoring. The state appeals court today ruled 4-2 that it doesn’t.

“A threat of future harm is insufficient to impose liability against a defendant in a tort context,” Judge Eugene Pigott Jr. said in his majority opinion today. “The requirement that a plaintiff sustain physical harm before being able to recover in tort is a fundamental principle of our state’s tort system.”

Claim Access

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said in a dissent that the majority of the court “resolutely stands frozen in time,” refusing to grant the smokers an opportunity to claim access to technology that could save lives.

“The common law must evolve with advances in scientific understanding to fashion relief and provide redress for wrongs newly understood, particularly when such relief can prevent devastating disease and death,” Lippman wrote.

“We believe that the New York Court of Appeals correctly held that there is no basis under the law that supports creating a medical monitoring claim,” Murray Garnick, associate general counsel for Altria, said in a statement today. “In so ruling, the New York Court of Appeals has joined with many courts throughout the country in rejecting such a sweeping new cause of action.”

The case is Caronia v. Philip Morris USA, 13-00227, New York State Court of Appeals (Albany).

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