Tony Gwynn’s family files wrongful death lawsuit against Philip Morris

tony gwynn

Interesting story and the first time I’m aware of (I wouldn’t doubt it has happened before, but it’s the first I’ve heard of it) of family suing the tobacco industry because a loved one likely died of someone who died from a chewing habit, rather than a smoking habit,

Tony Gwynn’s family filed the suit in San Diego Superior Court against Altria (formerly Philip Morris). Gwynn died in 2014 at the age of 54 from salivary gland cancer after chewing tobacco for more than 30 years.

From USA Today:

According to the lawsuit, Gwynn became addicted to their products.

“The tobacco industry had a responsibility to disclose the risk they knew of to him,” Gwynn’s attorney David S. Casey told The Associated Press. “They did not. At the time he made a choice with them marketing to try tobacco at a time it was not disclosed that it was dangerous.”

I’ve no idea what the chances are for success in the California court system. In Florida, mostly because of the Engle decision about 10 years ago, a number of families have successfully sued and received multi-million-dollar judgements from tobacco companies for the deaths of their loved ones from smoking. There are more than 8,000 such lawsuits winding their ways through the courts in Florida.

The Engle state supreme court decision overturned a $140 billion class-action judgement against the tobacco industry, but the wording of the decision basically said smokers and their families have the right to sue the industry for damages, but they have to do it on an individual basis, not as a class-action suit. That opened the door to thousands of lawsuits in Florida against Big Tobacco, and so far, several dozen judgements have gone against the industry.

gwynn quote

From a San Diego Union-Tribune story, apparently Gwynn dipped 1 1/2 to 2 cans a day from 1977 to 2008. Oh, man, that’s an insane amount of chewing tobacco. That’s more than 17,500 cans of chewing tobacco.

From the U-T article:

Gwynn’s son, Tony Jr., said his father was used as a “billboard” to promote the product. His father, an eight-time batting champion, was often photographed with a chew in his mouth during his 20-year playing career.

He recalled visiting his father after his playing career ended, in the hospital when the Hall of Famer was being treated for cancer.

“I remember him saying that he wouldn’t want this to happen to anybody else, especially having seen what my mom and sister and the rest of our family was going through with him, you wouldn’t wish that upon anybody,” he said.

The suit says Gwynn was a perfect vehicle for promoting the products to the target audiences.

“They definitely used him as a billboard,” Tony Gwynn Jr. said of his father. “If you were a baseball fan and watched a lot of baseball, one of the things you remember really well is the outline of those Skoal cans or Copenhagen cans in the back of the (players’) pockets. Everybody knew what it was. You were virtually a walking billboard without having to pay them. They got free advertising.”

tony_gwynn_bandage.0_cinema_1050.0

Gwynn’s death prompted a push to ban chewing tobacco in Major League Baseball. MLB wants to ban it on the field, but is facing resistance from the Players’ Association. Expect it to be part of the negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement.

Chewing tobacco has been banned in stadiums in New York City, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago. Chew will be banned in all stadiums in California in 2017, including San Diego and Oakland. Toronto, Minnesota and Pittsburgh are also considering laws or ordinances to ban chewing tobacco in baseball stadiums in those cities.

One thing that could hurt the Gwynn family’s lawsuit. I seem to remember when Gwynn died, some doctors were quoted as saying salivary gland cancer isn’t caused by chewing tobacco. However, Gwynn himself said he never bought that and insisted that the cancer developed in the exact spot in his mouth where he always dipped.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *