Cigarette maker Philip Morris may now be sued by long term smokers who have not yet developed lung cancer, a Massachusetts court ruled Monday.
The Supreme Judicial Court's unanimous ruling gives a go-ahead to a group lawsuit in the state that seeks to force Philip Morris into paying for smokers' medical screening for lung cancer.
The "[court] said that Massachusetts law has an antiquated definition of negligence that must be updated," The Boston Globe reported. "Historically, plaintiffs had to show explicit injury -- such as a broken leg -- before the other party can be ordered to pay for diagnostic tests. Writing for the court, Justice Francis X. Spina said that legal thinking had to change."
In his opinion, Justice Spina explained that diseases caused by exposure to toxic substances are "often latent," the Globe added, "not manifesting themselves for years or even decades after the exposure."
National Public Radio added: "Lawyers for the three plaintiffs — all of them long-time smokers — argued in the suit that Philip Morris should have to pay for their CT screens because the company had manufactured a product that contains a known carcinogen, putting its customers at high risk of lung cancer."
Lawyers are hoping the class action suit will draw smokers from all over the state, ultimately forcing Philip Morris to pay for their CT scans, the best early-warning system for lung cancer.
"Philip Morris USA, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes, is a unit of Richmond, Virginia-based Altria Group Inc," Bloomberg noted. "In a statement issued by an in-house attorney, the company disagreed with the court’s findings."
The company had initially asked a U.S. District Court Judge in Boston to toss the suit as invalid because the plaintiffs had no injury.
"The smokers argued that even though they have not been diagnosed with lung cancer, they have received an injury — damages to the tissues and structures of their lungs — that gives then a substantially increased risk of cancer," the Associated Press reported. "They claim the injury was caused by Philip Morris’ negligence by manufacturing Marlboro cigarettes that contain a dangerous quantity of carcinogens, and that they are entitled to medical monitoring to determine whether they do contract cancer.
The court noted that the ruling, which allows the suit to proceed, did not make any claims as to Phillip Morris's liability in the matter.