Teen Nicotine Addiction Lawsuits Over JUUL Vape Pens Cleared To Move Forward

The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal JUUL nicotine addiction lawsuits rejected an effort by defendants to have a series of bellwether cases dismissed, allowing certain claims brought on behalf of teens who became hooked on the popular vaping pods to move forward toward a series of early “bellwether” trial dates scheduled to begin next year.

JUUL Labs, Inc., Altria and other defendants currently faces more than 4,500 product liability lawsuits filed in federal courts nationwide, each raising similar allegations that JUUL vape pens were intentionally marketed toward teens and prior non-smokers, without adequately disclosing the serious health risks associated with their products, as part of a coordinated effort to create a new generation of customers with a life-long nicotine addiction.

Given common questions of fact and law raised in complaints brought throughout the federal court system, the JUUL 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, for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings.

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As part of the management of the cases, Judge Orrick has established a “bellwether” process, where a small group of personal injury cases are being prepared for early trial dates, which are designed to help the parties gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation.

In a court order (PDF) issued on July 22, Judge Orrick rejected a request by defendants to have the cases dismissed, although some strict product liability claims and claims involving certain state laws involving negligence were removed from the claims.

One of the defendants who tried to get the cases dismissed was Altria, which purchased a significant stake in JUUL several years ago. However, Judge Orrick indicated plaintiffs had enough evidence to at least present their case to a jury over Altria’s involvement with JUUL marketing tactics.

“I find that there is a sufficient connection between Altria’s acts in California and plaintiffs’ claims,” Judge Orrick ruled. “Plaintiffs identify meetings that occurred between Altria and JLI (JUUL Labs, Inc.) in California regarding the intent and eventual implementation of their business agreements and arrangements through which Altria supported JLI’s manufacturing, regulatory, marketing, and distribution efforts and how Altria’s efforts through JLI in California achieved their common goals. Those efforts and goals implemented in and emanating from California resulted in the injuries the bellwether plaintiffs allege.”

The decision means the bellwether cases will continue to move forward toward potential trials over the coming months, which will be closely watched and may have a substantial influence on any JUUL settlement negotiations to resolve the teen nicotine addiction lawsuits.

The Court also issued an amended case trial schedule (PDF) on July 23, scheduling a series of trials to begin on April 18, 2022, June 27, 2022, September 12, 2022 and November 7, 2022. The first case was originally expected to begin in February 2022, but the dates were delayed, as a number of other deadlines for completion of discovery in the bellwether pool cases were delayed.

JUUL Teen Addiction Concerns

JUUL pods were just introduced in 2015, and quickly became the most popular form of nicotine exposure among teens and young adults in the United States.

Marketing efforts by the manufacturer have been blamed for fueling the teen vaping epidemic, which has caused widespread disruption in schools, additional costs for local municipalities and left young adults addicted to high levels of nicotine in each JUUL pod, often leading to smoking and long-term health concerns.

The JUUL vape pens were designed to look like USB drives, allowing teens to hide their vaping habit from parents and school officials. The pods were also sold in a variety of candy-like flavors intended to appeal to prior non-smokers, and the manufacturer targeted teens through social media and other efforts that failed to disclose the high levels of nicotine, which may cause life-long addiction problems.

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 to be scheduled in different U.S. District Courts nationwide in the coming years.


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