Lawsuits Against JUUL and Other E-Cigarette Companies

What you should know about a potential product liability case over harm caused by vaping.

By , J.D., University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated by Charles Crain, Attorney (UC Berkeley School of Law)

E-cigarette companies like JUUL have been sued repeatedly in lawsuits alleging that their products harm the people who use them. If you think you've suffered health problems because of e-cigarette or vaping products, you should make sure you know how a product liability case against a vaping company would work. You should also understand how your case might be affected by other lawsuits filed by people who have claims similar to yours.

Proving Liability In an E-Cigarette Lawsuit

In any product liability lawsuit, the consumer has to show that:

  • they were harmed by a product, and
  • a retailer or manufacturer is responsible for that harm.

In a typical product liability case, the defendant's responsibility is decided using a legal theory called strict liability. But it's possible another approach might make more sense depending on the facts of your case. You can read more about the different approaches to proving liability in product liability cases.

The Phases of a Typical Vaping Lawsuit

A lawsuit over the safety of an e-cigarette/vaping product will generally follow the same procedure as other personal injury cases. The steps include:

  • The consumer files a complaint in civil court. The complaint is the document that starts a personal injury lawsuit. It describes the plaintiff's case and claims against the defendant—usually the manufacturer or retailer of the vaping product.
  • The defendant responds to the complaint. Sometimes the company being sued will file an answer denying the key allegations. Or they might file a motion to dismiss the case completely.
  • The discovery process. The plaintiff and defendant exchange information, medical records, and other evidence through written questions (interrogatories), sworn testimony (depositions), and document requests.
  • Pre-trial motions and hearings. Before a trial, both sides of the lawsuit have an opportunity to persuade the judge to allow or disallow certain evidence, or to dismiss all or part of the other side's argument.
  • Trial. The plaintiff and defendant make their case to the judge or the jury by calling witnesses and presenting evidence. The judge or jury decides if the defendant is liable and, if so, how much compensation they must pay the plaintiff.

Settling an E-Cigarette Lawsuit

Keep in mind that it's rare for any civil lawsuit to go all the way to a jury verdict. Instead, when plaintiffs receive compensation it's usually through a settlement. In a settlement, the two sides negotiate an agreement in which the defendant pays the plaintiff money, and in exchange the plaintiff dismisses (and promises not to refile) their case. One of the key factors in deciding whether a settlement is fair is understanding how to calculate your damages, which we'll discuss below.

Working With an Attorney In Your Vaping Case

If you decide to pursue an e-cigarette lawsuit, you will almost certainly want to work with an attorney who has experience handling these kinds of cases. A good attorney will represent your interests in court and in negotiations with the other side's lawyers, and work to present your strongest case.

A lawyer can also evaluate your case, including how likely you are to win and the amount of damages you'll be able to prove. Being informed and realistic about the strength of your case will help you decide whether it makes sense to pursue a settlement or to seek to win an award from a jury.

If a lawyer decides not to take your case at all, you should understand their reasons. Just because you have trouble finding a lawyer doesn't mean you have a weak case. But it could be a sign that a lawsuit won't be worth the time and effort you have to put into it.

Make Sure You're Candid With Your Lawyer

During your first meetings with your lawyer, you'll discuss all relevant details of your case (and even some things that you might not necessarily think are relevant), including:

  • the types of e-cigarette/vaping products you've used
  • the frequency with which you used those products
  • whether you altered the JUUL/e-cigarette product in any way before using it
  • whether you've vaped marijuana
  • the kinds of symptoms/health problems you're experiencing
  • other (pre-existing) respiratory conditions that might affect your case, like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • any medical treatment you've received in connection with your potential vaping-related illness
  • what your doctors have said about your condition (including any diagnosis of illness caused by your JUUL/e-cigarette use) and your recovery.

It's important to share all information with your lawyer, including facts that might not be pleasant, or details that could feel too personal.

This openness is important for several reasons. It will help your attorney decide the strength of your case, and ensure that everything your lawyer says on your behalf is accurate. It will also allow your lawyer to decide on a legal strategy that makes sense in light of all the facts—whether they're helpful to your case or potentially harmful.

Openness with your own attorney will also avoid a situation where information that could hurt your case is uncovered by the other side before your lawyer has had a chance to decide how to deal with them. In the discovery process, defense lawyers will have a chance to get information about you through depositions and document requests. So it's best to tell your lawyer anything that you think could be relevant to your case.

How Your Attorney Gets Paid In Your E-Cigarette Case

Attorneys who handle personal injury cases generally choose to be compensated through contingency fees. This means that, unlike a lot of lawyers, they don't get paid by the hour. Instead, they only get paid if they win settlements or jury awards for their clients. If you speak with an attorney about a potential e-cigarette lawsuit, make sure you understand how they'll be compensated (and how they'll cover any expenses while working on your case).

Calculating Damages In a Vaping Lawsuit

In a personal injury case, figuring out the value of a claim over the safety of JUUL or a similar product starts with an understanding of the nature and extent of the injured person's damages. Damages are the legal term for the compensation a defendant has to pay to make up for the losses they've caused the plaintiff.

Whether your vaping/e-cigarette case settles out of court, or you receive a judgment in your favor after a trial, the money you receive is considered damages. (Learn more about the basics of damages and compensation in a personal injury case.)

Common Types of Damages In an E-Cigarette Case

What damages (if any) you receive in a lawsuit will depend on the specifics of your case. But there are some typical categories of damages it's important to be aware of.

The Cost of Past and Future Medical Care. A successful plaintiff in a vaping lawsuit will generally receive compensation for:

  • any medical treatment they've received as a result of lung disease, respiratory problems, or other health issues caused by the e-cigarette product, and
  • any care they'll need in the future.

If the full extent and impact of your medical issues isn't clear, it's probably not in your best interest to accept an injury settlement offer. Your attorney will almost certainly want to wait until both of you have a clear picture of this component of your damages. Once you accept an injury settlement, you can't go back and reopen your claim, even if you learn that health problems caused by your use of e-cigarettes are worse than you first thought.

Lost Income and Diminished Earning Capacity. If your respiratory illness or other health issues have forced you to take time off from your job, or have otherwise affected your ability to earn a living, that kind of economic harm will also factor into your damages in a claim over e-cigarettes.

You're entitled to compensation not just for any income you've already lost, but also for income you could have earned in the future if you'd remained healthy. Lawyers refer to an award based on future income as compensation for the injured person's "loss of earning capacity" or "diminished earning capacity."

"Pain and Suffering" in an E-Cigarettes Case. While economic losses like medical bills and lost income are fairly easy to calculate, "pain and suffering" isn't so easy to quantify. But this category of damages plays a big part in determining how much you can expect to receive in an injury case, and can be a crucial component of a vaping lawsuit.

Pain and suffering is often broken down into two types:

  • Physical pain and suffering. For example, a plaintiff can be compensated for the pain caused by lung disease. They can also receive compensation for any pain caused by the course of care necessary to properly diagnose and treat their condition.
  • Mental pain and suffering, which can be viewed as the subjective psychological impact of your health problems. This includes anguish, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, fear, anger, humiliation, anxiety, shock, sleeplessness, and other negative effects.

The "Duty to Mitigate" Damages In a Vaping Case

When you file a lawsuit over harm caused by e-cigarette products like JUUL, you're asking the defendant to compensate you for your damages, but you're also taking on the legal obligation to keep those damages to a reasonable minimum.

The law in most states expects injury claimants to minimize or "mitigate" the financial impact of the harm caused by the defendant's alleged wrongdoing. For example, Juul Labs Inc. (or another defendant) will do its best to argue that you failed to get necessary medical treatment when you first began experiencing respiratory problems, and that the delay caused your condition to further deteriorate. If they're successful with this argument then your damages award might be significantly reduced.

How Other E-Cigarette Lawsuits Could Affect Your Case

There have been numerous significant lawsuits against JUUL and other companies that make and sell vaping products. For example, in 2022 JUUL paid more than $1 billion to settle lawsuits brought by thousands of plaintiffs who said they were hurt by the company's products.

If you're considering suing over harms caused by vaping, you should make sure you know about any class action lawsuits or multidistrict litigation (MDL) that could affect the strength of your claim.

Class actions and MDL are used to make civil litigation more efficient when many plaintiffs have similar claims against the same defendants.

Class action lawsuits can limit your options. Your vaping case could be added to an ongoing class action even if you'd rather keep it separate. And you would be bound by whatever decisions the class's lawyers make about the case—including how much money to accept in a settlement. Additionally, you could be completely barred from filing a lawsuit if there was already a class action that you could have joined, but didn't.

Multidistrict Litigation can affect the outcome of your case. Like with a class action, if there's ongoing MDL against the company you want to sue then your lawsuit could end up being added to that case.

If there has already been MDL where the claims were similar to yours, the outcome may help you and your attorney understand how strong your case is. This could influence decisions about what kind of settlement offer is fair, or even whether filing a case at all is a good idea.

Your Deadline for Filing a Vaping Lawsuit

Each state has its own deadlines (called statutes of limitations) for filing civil lawsuits. If you're considering suing over e-cigarette injuries its important to know how these deadlines apply to you. The time limits can vary based on factors including:

  • whether you're suing under a negligence or a strict liability theory
  • when you last used the product, and
  • when you first learned about your vaping-related health problems.

Remember that, in general, the clock only starts ticking on the statute of limitations when you knew (or should have known) about the injuries you suffered. You might start experiencing health issues months or even years after you stop vaping. Regardless, though, it's important to move quickly to evaluate your legal options and, if it makes sense, file a lawsuit. The longer you wait the more risk there is that you'll run out of time.

Your attorney should know the relevant statutes of limitations and how they apply to your specific case and situation.

Learn More About Vaping Liability and Regulations

If you think you've been hurt by vaping, and want to know if a lawsuit might be your best option, consider consulting an attorney with experience handling vaping or other product liability cases.

You can also learn more about how the government regulates e-cigarettes and vapes.

One major issue in vaping lawsuits and regulations is the use of these products by minors. So, if you think your child has been affected, it may be helpful to understand when parents can file personal injury cases on behalf of a minor.

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