$10 Billion Smoking Case Reheard By State Supreme Court

May 20, 2015

A $10 billion dollar lawsuit was back before the Illinois Supreme Court yesterday.

A group of smokers say Philip Morris defrauded them into thinking light cigarettes were safer than regular. Back in 2003, a court ruled "yes" and granted smokers a monster $10 billion judgment,  but they lost the case a decade ago when the state’s sharply divided highest court overturned the verdict in 2005.

The justices ruled that the Federal Trade Commission had approved marketing “light” cigarettes as safer. However, a few years later, the FTC filed a brief in a different case saying it had not approved that marketing.

The smokers group convinced a local trial judge to reinstate their case, and Philip Morris is asking the Illinois Supreme Court to step in.

Former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson once again argued for the tobacco company. He basically says that, once the courts finish with a case, it should be left alone.

"Surely this is not a game of musical chairs depending on who sits in the chairs of the FTC at any given time," Thompson argued.

Justice Lloyd Karmeier

A lawyer for the smokers says his clients ought to be compensated.

One point of contention in the earlier case was that Justice Lloyd Karmeier, who eked out another decade term in November's election, had indirectly benefited from a half-million dollar donation from Philip Morris's parent company.

Critics are upset Karmeier voted to let Philip Morris off its $10 billion hook  and denounced him for not recusing himself ten years ago. They unsuccessfully tried to bounce him from ruling this round as well.

  • Statehouse Bureau Chief Amanda Vinicky and columnist Brian Mackey contributed to this story.