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American Tobacco Co. v. Grinnell

Supreme Court of Texas

February 13, 1996, Argued ; June 20, 1997, Delivered

No. 94-1227

Opinion

 [*424]  In this wrongful death case, we confront an [**2]  issue with profound health and public policy consequences: whether "common knowledge" of the health risks of cigarette smoking relieves tobacco companies of any duty to warn smokers of those risks. Applying our usual summary judgment standard, we conclude that the defendant has conclusively established the defense of common knowledge with regard to the general health risks of smoking. We also conclude, however, that the defendant has not conclusively established the common knowledge defense with regard to the addictive nature of cigarettes. Accordingly, we conclude that the defendant is entitled to summary judgment on most, but not all of the plaintiffs' claims, and remand the surviving claims to the trial court for further proceedings.

 [*425]  In 1952, nineteen-year-old Wiley Grinnell began smoking Lucky Strikes, cigarettes manufactured by the American Tobacco Company. Almost a year later, Grinnell changed to Pall Malls, also manufactured by American. After smoking for approximately thirty-three years, Grinnell was diagnosed with lung cancer in July 1985. Shortly thereafter, he filed this lawsuit. He died less than a year later. Grinnell's family continued this suit after his [**3]  death, adding wrongful death and survival claims. The family alleges that American failed to warn of, and actively concealed, facts that it knew or should have known, including the facts that Grinnell could quickly become addicted to cigarettes and that his smoking could result in injury or death from the cancer-causing ingredients if he used the cigarettes as American intended. They also allege that, even though American knew or should have known that its cigarettes were dangerous and could not be used safely, American represented to consumers that cigarettes were not harmful, dangerous, or capable of causing injury.

The Grinnells assert essentially six interrelated claims: (1) strict liability design, marketing, and manufacturing defect; (2) negligent testing, failure to warn, misrepresentation, and design; (3) affirmative fraudulent misrepresentation and fraudulent concealment; (4) Deceptive Trade Practices Act violations for failure to disclose and deceptive advertising; (5) breach of express and implied warranties; and (6) civil conspiracy. They also assert claims based on violations of sections 321, 389, 519, and 520 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts (1965, 1977). The [**4]  gravamen of their complaint is that Grinnell began smoking because American did not warn him of the potential dangers of smoking, and once he began smoking he could not stop because he became addicted to cigarettes.

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951 S.W.2d 420 *; 1997 Tex. LEXIS 56 **; 40 Tex. Sup. J. 658; 33 U.C.C. Rep. Serv. 2d (Callaghan) 331; CCH Prod. Liab. Rep. P14,992

THE AMERICAN TOBACCO COMPANY, INC., PETITIONER v. JEANNIE GRINNELL, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS INDEPENDENT EXECUTRIX OF THE ESTATE OF WILEY GRINNELL, JR., DECEASED, WILEY AND FRANCES GRINNELL, SR., AND KEVIN GRINNELL, RESPONDENTS

Prior History:   [**1]   ON APPLICATION FOR WRIT OF ERROR TO THE COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH DISTRICT OF TEXAS.

Disposition: Reversed in part and affirmed in part and remanded.

CORE TERMS

cigarettes, smoking, addictive, tobacco, warnings, common knowledge, advertisements, preempted, summary judgment, manufacturer, pesticide, risks, unreasonable danger, general health, design defect, manufacturing defect, residue, matter of law, consumer, products, cancer, lung cancer, implied warranty, health risk, misrepresentation, commonly known, effects, user, nicotine, alcohol

Civil Procedure, Summary Judgment, Burdens of Proof, General Overview, Appeals, Summary Judgment Review, Entitlement as Matter of Law, Torts, Products Liability, Theories of Liability, Strict Liability, Types of Defects, Design Defects, Marketing & Warning Defects, Criminal Law & Procedure, Defenses, Intoxication, Evidence, Inferences & Presumptions, Presumptions, Rebuttal of Presumptions, Manufacturing Defects, Business & Corporate Compliance, Environmental Law, Hazardous Wastes & Toxic Substances, Pesticides, Governments, Agriculture & Food, Movant Persuasion & Proof, Commercial Law (UCC), Contract Provisions, Warranties, Contracts Law, Contract Conditions & Provisions, Implied Warranties, Contracts Law, Types of Contracts, Express Warranties, Defenses, Demurrers & Objections, Affirmative Defenses, Legislation, Statute of Limitations, Time Limitations, Sales of Goods, Tolling of Statute of Limitations, Discovery Rule, Types of Commercial Transactions, Consideration, Enforcement of Promises, Fraud & Misrepresentation, Negligent Misrepresentation, Elements, Contract Formation, Business Torts, Sales (Article 2), Contract Terms, Negligence, Concerted Action, Civil Conspiracy, Strict Liability, Abnormally Dangerous Activities, Antitrust & Trade Law, Consumer Protection, Tobacco Products, Federal Cigarette Labeling & Advertising Act, Communications Law, Regulated Practices, Content Regulation, Advertising, State Regulation, Procedural Matters, Preemption, Nondisclosure, Deceptive & Unfair Trade Practices, False Advertising