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When it comes to state court tobacco litigation, our eyes over the last couple years have been pretty much glued to warm and sunny Florida, where the tobacco industry has been litigating thousands of smoker lawsuits in the wake of that state supreme court’s contentious Engle ruling. But we’re also watching another important state court tobacco case, which just entered the final phase of jury selection in St. Louis (a city that’s anything but warm and sunny right now, as we can attest from personal experience). The 12-year-old suit pits the city and about three dozen hospitals and clinics against the nation’s leading tobacco companies over the costs of treating indigent patients with smoking-related illnesses. St. Louis circuit court judge Michael David said in November that the trial, which is set to begin Jan. 31, could last more than six months, making it the longest in the city’s history. The plaintiffs, represented by St. Louis’s Lashly & Baer, alleged a familiar litany of abuses when they first filed suit against the tobacco companies in November 1998, including conspiracy, fraud, negligence, failure to warn, and strict liability. Those allegations have since been whittled down to a single claim that the companies sold a defective product, for which the plaintiffs hope to recover an estimated $1 billion for the cost of treating the tobacco-related injuries of poor and uninsured smokers. More than a dozen of the 44 original plaintiffs have dropped out since the suit was filed, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Moreover, the court has narrowed the hospitals’ claims to losses allegedly suffered since 1993 (the plaintiffs originally sought restitution for treatment costs from as far back as 1954). But the plaintiffs can claim some success simply because the suit has made it to trial. The case is one of only three similar suits to survive to this stage, out of 160 that were filed by hospitals and others in the 1990s. In the other two trials, in Ohio and New York, the tobacco companies either won jury verdicts or won their case on appeal, according to results compiled by the industry. We left a message with plaintiffs’ lawyer Kenneth Brostron of Lashly & Baer, who’ll be facing off against the defendants at trial, but we didn’t hear back. We’ll be very curious to see how he counters likely arguments by the tobacco companies that the plaintiffs are too far removed from the patients’ injuries to recover alleged losses, and that other suits by third parties over smoker injuries have all failed. As you might expect, the tobacco companies are planning to fly a small army of defense lawyers to St. Louis for the trial. The lineup of firms includes Dechert; Chadbourne & Parke; Kirkland & Ellis; and Goodwin Procter. A Phillip Morris spokesperson declined comment (lead trial counsel for PM parent Altria Group is Diane Sullivan of Dechert). Other lawyers for the tobacco companies didn’t return our calls. Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and Shook, Hardy & Bacon would be among the firms representing the tobacco companies at trial and failed to identify Diane Sullivan of Dechert as lead counsel for Altria Group. We regret the errors.

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