Cruz-Vargas v R J Reynolds Tobacco Company: 2003

(United States Court of Appeals, 1st Circuit) Relatives of a deceased smoker brought a negligence and strict liability suit against a tobacco company, alleging that it was responsible for his death. The action was brought in the District Court for the District of Puerto Rico. There was evidence that ‘the average consumer in Puerto Rico during the 1950’s, during the 1960’s’ was aware both of health risks, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease, associated with smoking and that ‘smoking was or could be difficult to quit’. In discussing the evidence regarding common knowledge, the Court of Appeals said: ‘This case calls for us to evaluate application of the common knowledge doctrine in the context of tobacco litigation. The doctrine stems from the principle that a manufacturer cannot be held liable under either strict liability or negligence for failure to warn of a danger commonly known to the public. See, e.g., Guevara v Dorsey Labs., Div. of Sandoz, Inc., 845 F 2d 364, 367 (1st Cir. 1988) (‘The duty to warn in general is limited to hazards not commonly known to the relevant public’); Aponte Rivera v Sears Roebuck, 44 P.R. Offic. Trans. 7, 144 D.P.R. 830 (1998) (‘[A] manufacturer need not warn of a hazard if the average consumer ordinarily has knowledge of the dangers of the product.’). […]
A products liability plaintiff alleging failure to warn must prove
‘(1) the manufacturer knew, or should have known of the risk inherent in the product; (2) there were no warnings or instructions, or those provided were inadequate; (3) the absence of warnings made the product inherently dangerous; (4) the absence of adequate warnings or instructions was the proximate cause of plaintiff’s injury.’
Aponte Rivera, 44 P.R. Offic. Trans. at 6. Under the common knowledge doctrine, however, a defendant neither breaches a duty nor causes the product to be inherently dangerous when the allegedly omitted warning concerns a danger of which the public is well aware. […]
The crux of appellants’ entreaty on appeal is that neither the strict liability nor the negligence claim requires any affirmative showing, and thus the burden rested entirely on Reynolds. Whether or not this is a correct view of the law, after searching the record we have found no evidence which supports appellants’ allegations that there was a lack of common knowledge and thus we are compelled to find that Reynolds met its burden in any event.’
(5) In Roysdon v R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company 849 F.2d 230 (6th Cir. 1988), a smoker and his wife brought an action against a tobacco manufacturer to recover for disease allegedly caused by smoking. The United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, inter alia affirmed the dismissal by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee of the plaintiffs’ failure to warn claim. At p.236, para.10, the Court of Appeals said:
‘[T]he district court took judicial notice that ‘tobacco has been used for over 400 years and that its characteristics have also been fully explored. Knowledge that cigarette smoking is harmful to health is widespread and can be considered part of the common knowledge of the community.’
Roysdon, 623 F.Supp. at 1192. Remembering that this action was limited to the ten years preceding the filing of this complaint [on 5 July 1984], we think this approach was appropriate. The extensive information regarding the risks of smoking available to the public during that time precluded the existence of a jury question as to whether cigarettes are unreasonably dangerous. We find that whether there was knowledge regarding Mr Roysdon’s specific medical problem is irrelevant in light of the serious nature of the other diseases known at that time to be caused by cigarette smoking.’


[2003] 348 F3d 271 (1st Cir.2003)

Cited by:

CitedMcTear v Imperial Tobacco Ltd OHCS 31-May-2005
The pursuer sought damages after her husband’s death from lung cancer. She said that the defenders were negligent in having continued to sell him cigarettes knowing that they would cause this.
Held: The action failed. The plaintiff had not . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Negligence, International

Updated: 17 May 2022; Ref: scu.226222