Secondhand Smoke Lawsuit Seeks Class Action Status

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By: Staff Writers | Published: March 22nd, 2011

The mother of a casino employee who died of cancer last year has filed a class action lawsuit against the owners of Harrah’s New Orleans Casino, alleging that secondhand smoke killed her son and exposed other employees to health risks. 

The secondhand smoke lawsuit was filed earlier this month against Caesars Entertainment Corp. by Denise Bevrotte, the mother of Maceo Bevrotte Jr., who died of cancer on March 9, 2010.

According to allegations raised in the complaint, Maceo Bevroette Jr.’s cancer was caused by inhaling the casino’s smoke-filled air for about 15 years, even though he did not smoke himself.

The lawsuit seeks class action status on behalf of at least 1,000 nonsmoking Harrah’s casino employees, alleging that Harrah’s failed to take any actions to protect its employees from the dangers of secondhand smoke inhalation.

The state of Louisiana has refused to ban smoking in bars or gambling establishments on several occasions, but does ban smoking in restaurants, public facilities and most other businesses.

A similar lawsuit filed against Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey, was settled in September for $4.5 million. In that case, the plaintiff, Vince Rennich, said he developed lung cancer after breathing in smoke at the casino for 25 years. 

There are about 8,000 smoker lawsuits filed against tobacco companies in Florida, known as Engle Progeny lawsuits. These individual claims stem from a 2006 decision by the Florida Supreme Court, in Engle v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., to vacate a class action verdict from 2000, which awarded $145 billion to an estimated 700,000 smokers. Although the appeals court overturned the award, plaintiffs were allowed to file individual claims and use the liability findings from the class action trial.

The ruling does allow juries in the current smoker lawsuits to see previous jury findings that determined cigarettes are defective and dangerous products. Tobacco companies have called the ruling unfair and unconstitutional, because it allows juries to look at a previous jury’s findings. However, plaintiffs have pointed out that they must still prove that the addiction caused the damages, as opposed to the damage being caused by the choice of the smoker to start smoking.

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