1st Wisconsin lawsuits filed against vaping companies, JUUL, Altria

MILWAUKEE -- Crueger Dickinson LLC, the Wisconsin law firm representing Wisconsin counties in their fight against the opioid crisis, announced Friday, Sept. 20 the filing of lawsuits in Wisconsin, Illinois, Florida, New Jersey, and Washington on behalf of more than a dozen individuals who became addicted to JUUL vaping products when they were teenagers, and have been exposed to the serious health risks those products cause in adolescents.

According to a news release, Wexler Wallace law firm in Chicago, Illinois, and the Greg Coleman law firm in Knoxville, Tennessee, were also representing plaintiffs in the case.

In addition to the cases filed Friday, the law firms were retained by additional claimants, and were investigating hundreds more cases around the country, the release said.

According to the lawsuit, JUUL and its 35% owner Altria (formerly Phillip Morris) engaged in a false and deceptive marketing campaign aimed directly at teens. Following lawsuits against Big Tobacco in the 1990s, marketing tobacco products to the youth population is illegal.  However, the suit alleged JUUL and Altria took advantage of the fact that the vaping industry was virtually unregulated until quite recently to launch a massive social media campaign directed towards teenagers around the country starting in 2015. As a result, the lawsuit alleged, JUUL and Altria’s campaign to promote and sell a highly addictive product to the millions of teens who bought that product as if it was safe, fun, and appropriate for recreational use by young people has addicted and injured young people around the country, the release said.

“Having witnessed the tragic results that happen when companies widely promote an addictive product as safe, our firm felt compelled to enter the fight to prevent yet another public health tragedy," said Erin Dickinson, one of Crueger Dickinson's the lead lawyers in these cases, in the release.

“It was completely unacceptable to market to teens," said Chuck Crueger, Dickinson's partner. "By their actions, JUUL and Altria have undone decades of work that was done to combat youth addiction to nicotine and should be held accountable.”

Plaintiffs in the case stated they were convinced by JUUL’s pervasive marketing campaign that they could use JUUL products when they were teens, and found themselves addicted to the potent doses of nicotine these products contain -- suffering health consequences as a result.

Plaintiffs also included parents of minors who became addicted to the products.

According to the release, plaintiffs felt it important to take a stand against the marketing that has exposed millions of teens across America to addiction and the undisclosed health risks JUUL products carry.

“The cases being filed today are important to shine the light on the improper marketing to teens across America,” said Skylar Ledford, plaintiff. “Had I known about the risks of using JUUL, I never would have started.”

Concerned parents across the country have also brought lawsuits on behalf of their minor children, the release said.

Throughout the summer, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (WDHS) and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) received multiple reports of pulmonary disease in teenagers who had used vaping products and began an investigation. Similar cases were reported in at least 25 states, and officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said they were coordinating a public health response in multiple states.

The lawsuits filed Friday joined a number of suits from around the country alleging injuries caused as a result of JUUL vaping products.

JUUL asked for those cases to be consolidated in one location.

According to the release, the Judicial Panel for Multidistrict Litigation was set to hear arguments on that request Sept. 26 in Los Angeles federal court. Lawyers for the plaintiffs in the cases filed Friday asked the court to send the cases to a venue in either Wisconsin or Illinois.

As of Friday, Sept. 20, U.S. health officials said more than 500 people had been diagnosed with vaping-related breathing illnesses, with the cause unknown. Seven deaths had been reported as of Friday.