Imagine people bringing a consumer protection claim against a manufacturer for “misrepresenting” a product as “light” or “fat free” or “heart smart” and seeking billions of dollars in restitution. In this class action, plaintiffs do not seek recovery for any personal injuries. No one claims he or she relied on the representations. Class members even continue purchasing the product (at the same price!) while the suit is pending.

Could such a suit possibly succeed? Ask the tobacco industry. In 2003, a court in Madison County, Ill., upheld such a claim and awarded the plaintiff class more than $10 billion in damages, at least until the decision was overturned by the Illinois Supreme Court. And the tobacco industry is not alone.

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