Smokers drop damages action

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The Independent Online
A HIGH COURT damages action by a group of lung cancer sufferers was abandoned yesterday after most of the claimants decided to call a halt to the case.

The decision effectively brings to an end tobacco- related litigation in the UK.

Two firms of solicitors - Leigh Day and Co and Irwin Mitchell - who had taken on claims by 53 sufferers on a "no win, no fee" basis, are left with a costs bill running into millions of pounds.

Mr Justice Wright, sitting in London, was told that 46 of the claimants had signed an agreement withdrawing their actions and ending their conditional fee agreements with their solicitors. The other seven were given until 16 April to indicate whether they want to continue.

Yesterday's announcement follows a judgment on 9 February in which Mr Justice Wright decided not to exercise his discretion to allow the action against Gallaher and Imperial Tobacco to continue after it was brought outside the legal time limit. The plaintiffs in eight test cases had all lodged their claims more than three years after being diagnosed with lung cancer.

Had they been successful, the application would have paved the way for a larger group of lung cancer sufferersto sue the two firms.

The lung cancer victims had claimed that they suffered injury because all the cigarettes with which they were supplied between the 1950s and 1970s contained far more tar than was reasonably safe or appropriate.

Robert Owen QC, for the claimants, told the judge that his earlier ruling had "caused the plaintiffs and their legal advisers to take stock of the viability of this litigation".

Martyn Day of Leigh, Day and Co later said that his firm faces a bill for costs of pounds 2.5m.