Missouri hospitals lose lawsuit against U.S. tobacco companies

The amounts were for destitute and non-paying patients whom medical ethics mandate hospital to treat regardless of their ability to pay.

Missouri hospitals lost in a lawsuit against U.S. tobacco firms after a St. Louis jury declared that the cigarette companies are not liable for money spent on people with smoking-related ailments on Friday.

The 40 Missouri hospitals claimed in their 1998 lawsuit that Philip Morris unit of Altria Group, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, the Lorillard Tobacco and other tobacco firms that the latter manipulated the nicotine content in their products.

The hospitals sought over $455 million in damages, ranging from $300,000 claimed as reimbursements by some hospitals to $86.4 million sought by the Truman Medical Center in Kansas City.

The amounts were for destitute and non-paying patients whom medical ethics mandate hospital to treat regardless of their ability to pay.

Philip Morris argued that the ordinary cigarettes that the firm manufactured were not negligently designed or defective. However, what led the jury to reject the hospitals’ claims for reimbursement were admissions by hospital witnesses that the medical institutions were not financially damaged by having to treat destitute patients with tobacco-related ailments at no cost.

The jury favored the tobacco firms on a 9-3 vote held on Friday.

The Missouri hospitals’ lawsuit was the third such health care cost-recovery claim to reach trial. The tobacco industry won the first in 1999 in Ohio. The second initially favored a health insurer with a $17.8-million award in 2001 in New York, but the decision was reversed on appeal in 2004.

By Vittorio Hernandez

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