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The U.S. District Judge presiding over hundreds of JUUL lawsuits brought on behalf of consumers and others impacted by the national vaping epidemic has rejected the e-cigarette manufacturers attempts to dismiss the claims, but did agree to prevent plaintiffs from pursuing allegations under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Practices Act (RICO), which may have allowed courts to award triple damages for organized crime-like behavior that deliberately marketed the addictive products to teens.
There are currently more than 1,100 product liability and class action complaints filed against JUUL Labs throughout the federal court system, each involving claims teens and young adults have been left with nicotine addiction problems from JUUL vaping pods, which have been aggressively marketed by the manufacturer in recent years toward minors and prior non-smokers.
According to allegations raised in the litigation, false and misleading advertisements for JUUL created a new generation of Americans addicted to nicotine. In addition to the individual addiction claims, a number of class action lawsuits have also been filed on behalf of school districts and other entities that have incurred damages that resulted from the nationwide vaping epidemic that has plagued the U.S. in recent years.
JUUL Labs has been accused of fueling the teen e-cigarette epidemic in the United States, resulting in new generation now addicted to nicotine.
Given similar questions of fact and law presented in complaints filed throughout the federal court system, the litigation is currently centralized before U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick III in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, which is where JUUL Labs, Inc.’s San Francisco headquarters are located.
In a court order (PDF) issued on October 23, Judge Orrick ruled claims under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Practices Act (RICO) should be dismissed. However, he allowed those whose lawsuits were affected to amend their filings, and even said they could attempt to make RICO claims in the future, but would have to include more specific allegations.
RICO laws are generally known for being brought against crime syndicates, like the mafia and large drug cartels, under claims they are organized as a conspiracy to commit large-scale criminal activities.
The rest of the claims presented in the JUUL lawsuits will proceed, Judge Orrick ruled.
“We are at the pleading stage, where plaintiffs’ allegations are taken as true and reasonable inferences from those allegations are drawn in their favor,” he wrote. “In large part, plaintiffs’ claims are plausibly supported and state claims upon which relief can be granted.”
In late August, Judge Orrick indicated the first bellwether trials will begin in February 2022, involving a small group of representative claims that will go through a case-specific discovery process and early trials to help gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation.
While the outcomes of these early bellwether trials will not be binding on other claims pending in the federal court system, they will be closely watched and may greatly influence any JUUL settlements offered by the manufacturer to avoid the need for hundreds of individual trial dates in the coming years.