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There is no duty to warn when the risks associated with a particular product are matters within the ordinary knowledge common to the community.
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 death, adding wrongful death and survival claims. The family alleged 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 alleged 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.
Does "common knowledge" of the health risks of cigarette smoking relieve tobacco companies of any duty to warn smokers of those risks?
The court concluded that American has conclusively established the defense of common knowledge with regard to the general health risks of smoking. The court also concluded, however, that the American has not conclusively established the common knowledge defense with regard to the addictive nature of cigarettes. Accordingly, the court held that American 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.