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W&L and Co-Counsel Reach $235M Settlement in Altria E-Cig Youth Vaping Crisis

May 11, 2023
Home Firm News W&L and Co-Counsel Reach $235M Settlement in Altria E-Cig Youth Vaping Crisis

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Weitz & Luxenberg and co-lead counsel are pleased to announce a historic $235 million settlement with defendant Altria Group, Inc., in the federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) In re: JUUL Labs, Inc., Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation, MDL No. 2913, and the coordinated proceeding captioned JUUL Labs Product Cases, JCCP No. 5052.

Altria agreed to settle after plaintiffs had rested their case against the company. The plaintiffs presented numerous days of testimony in the first bellwether trial in San Francisco on behalf of the San Francisco Unified School District.

Intensive Litigation Ends in Large Settlements

Ellen Relkin, co-lead counsel in the MDL and partner at Weitz & Luxenberg, explains the Altria global settlements end four years of intensive litigation against Altria for its role in contributing to a nationwide youth vaping epidemic. Altria had supported JUUL by providing a 35% investment in JUUL in late 2018.

“We are so pleased to be part of this extraordinary, hard-fought litigation involving over 8,500 personal injury cases, 1,400 governmental entity cases, and 34 tribal entity cases. The injuries included significant lung damage, seizures, and cardiovascular problems. The litigation advanced at a remarkable speed, despite its complexity and size, and the intervention of COVID during most of the discovery time frame, thanks to the efforts of plaintiffs and their counsel,” explains Ms. Relkin. Ms. Relkin extends “gratitude to her colleagues who spent the last several months preparing for and then trying this important case.”

“Plaintiffs addressed the issue of youth vaping as soon as possible, to prevent life-long nicotine addiction. We believe that these global settlements against Altria Group, Inc., which follow our earlier settlement against JUUL Labs, Inc. and the other defendants, achieve just monetary compensation for our young clients suffering harm and addiction from JUUL e-cigarette use.”

Ms. Relkin continues, “Furthermore, the global settlements will allow schools, cities, counties, and tribes monetary resources to create abatement programs to deter and stop youth vaping. And it compensates consumers for their costs in purchasing the damaging products. Overall, this is an extraordinary end to an extraordinary and complex litigation, and is in the best interests of our clients.”

Altria and JUUL Litigation Continued for Years

In 2019, Weitz & Luxenberg began representing clients harmed by JUUL e-cigarettes. We were concerned the tempting sounding flavors enticed consumers, particularly young adults and teens. Add that to strategic and aggressive marketing, and it’s exactly what happened.

The defendants falsely promoted the benefits of e-cigarettes, saying they were safer than regular cigarettes and could help smokers stop smoking. However, e-cigarettes are really just another way for someone to use and become quickly addicted to nicotine.

The multidistrict litigation was formed in the fall of 2019. In December of 2019, W&L’s Ms. Relkin; Sarah R. London of Lieff Cabraser Heimann and Bernstein, LLP; Dena Sharp of Girard Sharp, LLP; and Dean Kawamoto of Keller Rohrback LLP, were appointed by the Court to serve as co-lead counsel for the litigation.

The MDL complaints alleged that JUUL and another manufacturer concealed the dangers of addiction linked to their e-cigarettes, especially for the youth market.

In December 2022, plaintiffs in the MDL reached four settlements with JUUL Labs, for the four different categories of plaintiffs. The settlements are intended to resolve multiple personal injury, consumer class action, government entity, and Native American harm cases brought in both the national MDL and the Judicial Council Coordinated Proceedings (JCCP) in California.

The cases are In re: JUUL Labs Inc., Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation, case number 3:19-md-02913, and San Francisco Unified School District. v. JUUL Labs, Inc. et al., case number 3:19-cv-08177, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Next Steps for the Settlement

The personal injury and government entity settlement is available only to those individuals and parties whose cases were already in suit or in compliance with prior court orders including providing detailed Plaintiff Fact Sheets and documentation. The Court will hold a hearing to review the proposed consumer class settlement.

A Class Settlement Administrator will notify class members about their rights under the Settlement. The claims process for the injury and government entity cases will be subsumed within the existing claim process for the prior settlement with JUUL and the other defendants. It is anticipated that once the Class Settlement is approved, the MDL litigation will be closed.

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