Juul Agrees to Settle Thousands of Vaping Lawsuits
Juul Labs announced on Tuesday that it had agreed to settle about 5,000 lawsuits in a Northern California court case for an undisclosed sum, resolving one more legal battle over its sale and marketing of e-cigarettes blamed for the teenage vaping crisis.
The proposed agreement on the multidistrict litigation would wrap up personal injury, consumer class action, government and Native American tribe cases in a deal that the company said it had secured an investment to fund.
“These settlements represent a major step toward strengthening Juul Labs’ operations and securing the company’s path forward to fulfill its mission to transition adult smokers away from combustible cigarettes while combating underage use,” a company spokesman said in a statement.
In September, the company settled an investigation by three dozen states for $438.5 million. That investigation focused on the company’s early marketing of its products, including the use of young models and the sale of flavors like mango and crème brûlée that many contended were deliberately aimed at underage youths. That settlement set terms for Juul’s marketing that prohibited the company from targeting young people.
Juul has repeatedly denied targeting minors, and in other rounds of settlements the company has not admitted wrongdoing in reaching agreements with the plaintiffs. The latest settlement does not end claims against Altria, which owned a 35 percent stake in Juul, according to lawyers for the plaintiffs. The agreement does not offer funds immediately but will open up a claims process.
“The scope of these suits is enormous,” Sarah R. London, a co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said in a statement. “These settlements will put meaningful compensation in hands of victims and their families, get real funds to schools for abatement programs, and help government and tribal entities prevent youth use of e-cigarettes across the U.S.”
The company is still awaiting a decision by the Food and Drug Administration over permanent authorization for sale of its vaping devices and pods. In June, the agency denied the company’s application to allow its e-cigarettes to remain on the market. Juul received a temporary court reprieve, and then the F.D.A. put its decision on hold for further review, which is continuing.
Juul said the agreement reached on Tuesday involved about 10,000 plaintiffs, many of whom claimed they had not been aware that the product could be more addictive than cigarettes. The plaintiffs, which included school districts, also argued that the e-cigarettes were unreasonably dangerous because of their attractiveness to young people. They made a wide range of claims, from racketeering to fraud and unjust enrichment.
Meredith Berkman, a co-founder of Parents Against Vaping E-Cigarettes, said she hoped the settlement was large enough “to compensate millions of American families whose lives have been upended by the youth vaping epidemic created by Juul.” The group is not a plaintiff in this multidistrict litigation.
She said she was troubled by the lack of details initially released by Juul and hoped the judge overseeing the litigation would require Juul to produce documents showing whether the company had deliberately targeted adolescents.