Relatives Drop Late Professor's Tobacco Lawsuits

Relatives of a deceased Harvard professor have decided to drop four multi-million dollar lawsuits which the scholar brought against tobacco companies in June.

John M. Bullitt '43, a noted specialist in 18th century English literature, charged in his suits against the companies that they had engaged in deceptive advertising and failed to provide adequate health warnings on cigarette packages.

The suits, each seeking damages of $5 million, were brought against the Liggitt Group Inc., Phillip Morris Inc., American Brands Inc. and the Tobacco Institute, a lobbying and public-relations organization.

Since August, when Bullitt--a longtime smoker--died of lung cancer, his relatives have had to decide whether they would drop the case or amend it by becoming the new plantiffs.

"The other family members were not as interested in pursuing the case as John Bullitt himself," said Tina M. Traficanti, a Boston lawyer who has been working on the lawsuit. "Going through a trial is an extremely emotional and trying experience."

Traficanti said the lawsuit could legally continue even though Bullitt has died, but to do so relatives would have to amend court records to assume responsibility for the case.

Similar product liability lawsuits against the tobacco industry in other states have been sustained despite the death of the original plantiffs.

"I'm afraid unfortunately that this case is going to disappear," Trafficanti said. "The tobacco industry ought to be brought to task for what they've done to individuals."

A Tobacco Institute spokesman would not comment on the dropping of the Bullitt suit.

Background

Bullitt began smoking in 1935. That is about 10 years before medical studies began showing a link between cigarette smoking and cancer, according to Dwight E. Harkin, an emeritus professor at the Harvard Medical School who helped pioneer research in the field.

One year ago, a doctor diagnosed Bullitt's lung cancer and placed him on chemotherapy.

At the time, Bullitt's suit jointed about 30 others filed nationwide against the $30 billion-per-year tobacco industry. There are currently about 40 suits on file, though not one has reached a courtroom, according to Bob Northrop, a lawyer for Phillip Morris.

Beyond the four $5 million suits introduced by the late scholar, several $1 million dollar lawsuits brought against the same companies by Bullitt's 14-year-old son, David M. Bullitt, will also be dropped.

If the $1 million suits were pursued "it might seem that someone was influencing [David Bullitt] more than himself," said Sandra M. Bullitt, the minor's mother.

David Bullitt sued the corporations for being "deprived of the full society, comfort, guidance, support and consortium of his father" as a result of the elder Bullitt's smoking, Traficanti said.

When the 14-year-old turns 18 he can refile the suits within the three years before his twenty-first birthday, Traficanti said.

David Bullitt could not be reached for comment