JUUL®/Vaping Lawsuits: History and Developments

E-cigarette companies like Juul Labs, Inc. are facing lawsuits over their use of questionable marketing practices and the safety of their products.

Recent years have seen a steady decline in tobacco use in the U.S., while a new form of nicotine consumption called "vaping" has been on the rise. One of the most popular vaping (or e-cigarette) products is JUUL®, made by Juul Labs, Inc., and a number of consumers (including teens) have alleged that their serious health problems can be linked to use of JUUL®. Let's take a look at the legal basis for these JUUL® e-cigarette claims, and how some early lawsuits are progressing.

The Legal Basis for Suing an E-Cigarette Company

In order to successfully sue a company for injuries caused by a dangerous or defective product, an individual has to prove that he or she suffered "damages" (a legal term for losses or harm), and that the product manufacturer (and/or some other entity in the supply chain) is legally responsible for those damages.

Suing for Health Problems from E-Cigarettes

Most plaintiffs are going to experience symptoms of a vaping-related illness that might include:

  • seizures
  • stroke
  • kidney issues
  • heart problems
  • lung injury
  • burns (due to e-cigarettes that explode or catch on fire)
  • death
  • respiratory failure
  • "popcorn lung", and
  • nicotine poisoning.

Along with health problems (and ensuing medical bills and any lost income), damages in a vaping/e-cigarette case can include "pain and suffering" and other more subjective effects stemming from the nature and extent of the plaintiff's injuries.

What Will a Plaintiff Have to Prove?

In addition to showing harm, an e-cigarette user will have to show that the maker of the vaping product somehow broke the law, breached a legal duty, or engaged in wrongful conduct. Examples of possible wrongful conduct by an e-cigarette company include:

Often, a tricky issue for plaintiffs is proving that the unlawful conduct of an e-cigarette company was the proximate cause of their injuries or health problems. The lack of information on the long-term effects of vaping, combined with the fact that many e-cigarette users were also users of tobacco cigarettes, can make proving liability a challenge.

This is why some law firms representing clients harmed by vaping will only take on clients who were less than 18 years of age when they started using JUUL® or another vaping product. Other firms will only accept clients who have no other history of tobacco use. Learn more about suing for health problems caused by e-cigarettes and how lawyers decide whether to take a personal injury case.

Lawsuits Involving JUUL® and Other Vaping Products

The first lawsuits against e-cigarette/vaping companies involved allegations of injury caused by exploding e-cigarettes, with some plaintiffs making large recoveries in court.

For example, in October 2015, a jury awarded a California woman about $1.9 million from the distributor, wholesaler, and seller of an e-cigarette that malfunctioned while she was charging it in her car. The battery exploded and the plaintiff suffered second-degree burns on her hands, legs, and buttocks.

Lately, the bulk of e-cigarette litigation involves JUUL®. In these cases, the primary focus of the plaintiffs’ allegations revolves around Juul Labs, Inc. misrepresenting the dangers of its product through deceptive marketing. Plaintiffs also claim that Juul Labs, Inc. specifically targeted teens, including those too young to legally buy JUUL®.

September 2020: Juul Labs Inc. Asks Court to Dismiss RICO Claims

A formidable array of states, counties, school districts, and individual plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against Juul Labs Inc. in recent months. One of the most notable (and novel) allegations in some of these cases is that, in marketing and selling JUUL® vaping products, the company violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. "RICO" is a federal law passed in 1970 in an effort to eradicate organized crime.

Now, less than thrilled to find itself in the distinguished company of the Mafia and other targets of RICO, Juul Labs Inc. is asking a federal judge to block these kinds of claims. The judge's decision could represent a crucial stage in litigation over the safety of JUUL® and other e-cigarette/vaping products. That's because, if the RICO claims are allowed to proceed, any verdict against Juul Labs Inc. could see the company paying triple damages, plus the plaintiffs' attorneys fees. Stay tuned for updates.

July 2020: Colorado Versus Juul Labs Inc.

The state of Colorado filed a lawsuit against Juul Labs, Inc., accusing the company of violating the Colorado Consumer Protection Act by intentionally marketing JUUL® to young people, while misrepresenting it as a healthy alternative to cigarettes.

April 2020: Plaintiffs Add Coronavirus-Related Claims

The plaintiffs in at least one ongoing federal lawsuit filed against Juul Labs, Inc. (and Altria Group Inc., which recently purchased a 35-percent stake in Juul Labs, Inc.) added allegations that JUUL® users are at enhanced risk of suffering more severe complications if they end up contracting the coronavirus. Get more details on the impact of coronavirus on injury cases involving respiratory illness.

The plaintiffs in some of these cases hope to form a class-action lawsuit. However, there is already multi-district litigation, (called "MDL No. 2913"). This is where many lawsuits against Juul Labs, Inc. are already pending in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California under Judge William H. Orrick, III. One of the most notable cases in this MDL is Vail v. Juul Labs, Inc., which is the first vaping lawsuit involving the death of an e-cigarette user.

This MDL is still in the early stages, with discovery yet to take place and the start of the first "bellwether" trials probably several years away.

The Legal Future for JUUL® and Vaping

The vast majority of lawsuits involving Juul Labs Inc. and other vaping product manufacturers probably haven't been filed yet. E-cigarette companies also still have until 2022 to meet the compliance deadline for submitting public health applications to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration concerning the safety of e-cigarettes compared to traditional tobacco cigarettes.

If you're thinking about taking legal action over the safety of JUUL or another e-cigarette product, keep in mind that diagnosis of a vaping-related health problem is often a key threshold to clear before filing a lawsuit. For information tailored to your situation, learn how to find the right attorney for your vaping/e-cigarette lawsuit.

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