Pritchard

Anita Pritchard for Otto E. Pritchard
v Liggett & Myers

US District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania
Judge John L. Miller presiding

Filed October 30, 1954

Directed verdict for Defendant

Pritchard died of lung cancer.
The case proceeded through three trials.

Timeline

  • 1954 – October 30: Complaint filed; injury alleged: lung cancer
    – seeking General damages $250,000; Punitive damages $1,000,000
  • 1960 – March 3: Directed verdict for Defendant; reversed
  • 1961 – October 12: Verdict reversed by US Third Circuit Court
  • 1962 – October 1: Second Pritchard trial
  • 1962 – November 9: Jury found causation but awarded no damages
  • 1965 – July 26: US Third Circuit orders new trial limited to issues of liability and damages
  • 1966 – January 17: US Supreme Court denies certiorari
  • 1966 – December 22: Third Circuit clarifies previous order for new trial
  • 1967 – April 17: Supreme Court denies certiorari again
  • 1968 – September 25: Third Pritchard trial
  • 1968 – October 8: Final General verdict for Defendant
    No appeal.

Narrative

This individual personal injury suit was brought by Otto E. Pritchard against Liggett and Myers. His widow, Anita Pritchard, the administratrix of his estate, continued the litigation following Mr. Pritchard’s death in 1963. Between 1960 and 1968 there were three trials of the matter.

The Pritchards alleged that his squamous cell lung cancer was caused by smoking Chesterfield cigarettes between 1921 and 1953, when his right lung was removed. Chesterfield cigarettes contained harmful carcinogenic ingredients making them unsafe for human consumption, but the defendant put out advertisements including guarantees that Chesterfied cigarettes were good for you, on which the plaintiff relied. The plaintiff claimed negligence, fraudulent and negligent misrepresentation, and breach of express and implied warranty. The plaintiff sought compensatory and punitive damages, but later withdrew the demand for punitive damages. The plaintiff sought monetary damages for loss of earnings, medical expenses and pain and suffering.

The defendant asserted that after a scientific test, their cigarettes had no adverse affect on the ear, nose, throat or accessory organs, including the lungs. The defense argued that the representations made in the advertisements were mere sales talk or “puffing”. It also argued that the plaintiff assumed the risk by voluntarily smoking a product he knew was dangerous and had the attitude that he would have smoked whether he knew the dangers or not.

The case was heard in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (Civil Action No. 12820) before the Honorable John L. Miller.

Pritchard I – 1960

After the evidence was heard Federal Judge John L. Miller told the jury that,

“The court is of the opinion that no substantial evidence has been offered to support a verdict against the defendant on any theory of negligence, and that fair-minded men could not differ as to the conclusions of fact to be drawn from the evidence.”

On October 12, 1961 The United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit (295 F2d 292) reversed the ruling and remanded the case for a second trial.

Pritchard II – 1962

The second Pritchard trial began on October 1, 1962. Key evidence in the case was a series of advertisements for Chesterfield claiming the cigarette had no adverse effects on the “nose, throat and accessory organs.” These statements raised the question of breach of implied warranty, and the plaintiff’s reliance thereon, a question to be settled by a jury.

The Pritchard jury returned a verdict on November 9. They found causation, i.e., that smoking caused cancer. They also found that the defendant had committed misrepresentation, but not negligent misrepresentation or breach of an express warranty. Furthermore, the jury found that the plaintiff had assumed the risk of injury by smoking cigarettes, thus they awarded no damages.

Specifically, the jury addressed the following questions:

  1. Was the smoking of Chesterfield cigarettes by the plaintiff the cause or one of the causes-of cancer in his right lung? Answer Yes
  2. Is the defendant chargeable with negligence which was a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury? Answer No
  3. Is the plaintiff chargeable with negligence which contributed in any degree to his injury? (No answer)
  4. Did the plaintiff give notice of a breach of warranty within a reasonable time as required by the Sales Act? Answer Yes
  5. Did the defendant make any express warranties upon which the plaintiff relied and by which he was induced to purchase Chesterfield cigarettes? Answer No
    5A If so, did the defendant breach the said warranty? (No answer)
  6. Was there a breach of the warranty implied by law as defined in the charge? Answer No
  7. Did the plaintiff assume the risk of injury by his smoking of Chesterfield cigarettes? Answer Yes
  8. If the defendant is liable, what is the total amount of the damages. NONE

In the second trial The plaintiffs appealed the breach of warranty jury instructions and verdict.

The United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit (350 F2d 479) ordered a new trial limited to the issues of liability and damages. The court ruled that reliance was not a required element of a breach of express warranty claim, and that the jury instructions were erroneous. It held that contributory negligence or assumption of risk defenses were not applicable to a claim for breach of express warranty. If the plaintiff had no warning as to the dangers of smoking, he could not assume the risk.

The Supreme Court of the United States (382 U.S. 987) denied certiorari.

The Third Circuit (370 F2d 95) clarified its previous order for a new trial. Because causation had been decided by a jury in the first trial, the plaintiff was not required to relitigate the issue on retrial. However, the Supreme Court (386 U.S. 1009) denied certiorari again.

Pritchard III  – 1968

The third jury trial was heard in the District Court on September 25, 1968. It was limited the issue of express warranty in advertisements and resulted in a verdict for the defense on October 8. There was no appeal.