In a unanimous decision, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled on Monday that cigarette manufacturer, Philip Morris, may have to pay for screening/diagnostic scans for smokers. The ruling paves the way for the possibility that Philip Morris could be required to pay for low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) scans, which can detect lung cancer much earlier than standard x-rays. In a case brought in federal court by two long-time Massachusetts smokers, the lawsuit is seeking class certification of all Massachusetts smokers, 50 or older, who have smoked a pack or more of Marlboro cigarettes for at least 20 years.
As reported by the Boston Globe, the Court said that a change is needed in legal thinking concerning foreseeable damages caused by exposure to dangerous chemicals and the negligence of those creating the exposure. Justice Francis X. Spina, writing for the Court said:
“When competent medical testimony establishes that medical monitoring is necessary to detect the potential onset of a serious illness or disease due to physiological changes indicating a substantial increase in risk of harm from exposure to a known hazardous substance, the element of injury and damage will have been satisfied and the cost of that monitoring is recoverable in tort.”
Mark Gottlieb, Director of the Tobacco Products Liability Project (TPLP) at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston noted:
“Today’s decision is an important step in compelling cigarette companies to take responsibility for the enormous medical risk that their addictive and defective products create for their customers. Whether through LDCT scans or other monitoring, smokers should have a specific program funded by cigarette companies to help reduce the grim odds that their products will cause terminal illness and premature death.”
The decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court is a departure from those of other states’ Supreme Courts when facing this issue.