South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Cigarette Death Suit May Proceed Under UCC Claim
Description Appeals court held that under Alabama law the estate of a deceased smoker could not bring suit against cigarette makers in tort, but it could proceed on the basis that cigarettes were not fit for use by consumers and so breached the implied warranty of merchantability.
Topic Sales
Key Words Products Liability; Unreasonably Dangerous; Warranty; Knowledge; Cigarettes
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Spain began smoking cigarettes in 1962. She died of lung cancer in 1999. Her husband sued the cigarette manufacturers for products liability and negligence. The district court dismissed the suit; Spain appealed. The appeals court decided the appeal after asking the Alabama supreme court to clarify several aspects of Alabama tort law. After the Alabama court explained the current status of products liability, the federal appeals court reviewed the decision of the district court.

Reversed and remanded. Cigarettes are not an unreasonably dangerous product under Alabama law. The dangers of smoking were known to ordinary consumers during the time Spain was a smoker. There is also no claim for failure to warn as federal law required cigarette makers to provide health warnings on their products. Hence, there is no suit based on strict liability in tort or in negligence. However, Spain's suit may proceed on the basis of breach of implied warranty of merchantability under UCC § 2-214. The basis of the claim is that the cigarettes were unfit for ordinary purpose for which they were used because they caused cancer.

Citation Spain v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 363 F.3d 1183 (11th Cir., 2004)

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