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Company Agrees To Settle Suit Brought By Former Snuff User

Oct 12, 2002 | AP

A major maker of smokeless tobacco has settled a lawsuit by a former customer who contracted tongue cancer, in what could be the first time a tobacco company has agreed to pay an individual for injuries said to be caused by its products.

The manufacturer, UST Inc., which is based in Greenwich, Conn., has reached an unspecified "resolution" with the former customer, Michael L. McMullin, The Los Angeles Times reported today. Mr. McMullin's lawsuit had been set to begin on Oct. 21 in Jacksonville, Fla.

Cigarette manufacturers have never settled a case with an individual smoker, to prevent an influx of new claims, The Times reported. But analysts told the newspaper that UST did not face the same risk because there were fewer smokeless tobacco users, and the risk of oral cancer is less than lung cancer and heart disease in smokers.

"If we believed there was a substantial pool of plaintiffs out there, then I think we might have come to a different decision," said UST's chairman and chief executive, Vincent A. Gierer Jr.

Although no terms of the settlement were disclosed, Richard H. Verheij, UST's general counsel and executive vice president, said the "outcome provides for payment of attorneys' fees and other expenses."

Court documents say Mr. McMullin first tried snuff in high school in 1990 and later became a regular user of Copenhagen and Skoal, UST brands.

In December 1998, tongue cancer was diagnosed in Mr. McMullin and he underwent radiation treatments and surgery to remove part of his tongue. Mr. McMullin, 29, has been cancer free since then, his lawyer, Norwood S. Wilner, said.

Cigarette manufacturers have faced more than a thousand individual claims, as well as class-action lawsuits.

But only about 50 claims have been filed against smokeless-tobacco companies, UST executives said. They said a few claims were pending against them in West Virginia.

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