WHEELING – Ohio Circuit Judge Arthur Recht has dismissed 162 dead cigarette smokers from a statewide class action suit against tobacco companies.
In an Oct. 16 order Recht trimmed the number of plaintiffs in the personal injury case to fewer than 1,000.
Plaintiff attorneys had missed a deadline to identify survivors of the dead smokers.
Recht plans to start trial in March.
He has handled tobacco litigation by special assignment since the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals consolidated all pending cases in 1999.
Recht split the smokers into three groups: those in good health, those with illnesses or dead, and those with diseases from asbestos and tobacco together.
For healthy smokers, attorneys sought annual medical tests to catch lung disease in its early stages. In 2001 a jury found tobacco companies not liable for those tests.
Claims of the ill and dead now await trial before Recht.
In an Aug. 18 order he gave plaintiff attorney Cindy Kiblinger, of James F. Humphreys and Associates in Charleston, 30 days to identify survivors of dead smokers.
She found survivors for fewer than half. At the deadline she asked for more time.
Defense liaison counsel Pamela Campbell of Charleston asked Recht on Sept. 20 to deny an extension. She wrote, "Enough is enough."
Recht agreed. At an Oct. 16 hearing he denied the extension and dismissed all dead plaintiffs without identified survivors.
Meanwhile, Kiblinger dredged up 70 years of tobacco rhetoric to comply with a Sept. 14 order requiring her to list all express warranties of defendants.
Her list of warranties featured slogans from the 1960s, such as "Lucky Strike means fine tobacco" and, "Outstanding -- and they are mild."