Hospitals must shoulder smokers' costs, court decides

After 13 years, a St. Louis circuit court may have laid to rest the question of whether tobacco companies should have to pay for the care of smokers who are indigent or don't pay their hospital bills.

The jury in the landmark case, City of St. Louis v. American Tobacco, found for the defense on Friday. The decision essentially refutes hospitals' claims that tobacco companies had provided a defective and "unreasonably dangerous" product, which caused health problems among uninsured and poor patients, forcing hospitals to pick up the tab.

Hospital lawyers indicate they're considering an appeal, but it's not clear if they'll move forward. "I'm just numb. I'm not shocked," plaintiff attorney Kenneth Brostron told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "It really was a case of David versus Goliath."

The mammoth case involved 37 Midwestern hospitals seeking $455 million in damages from six tobacco companies, including Phillip Morris. The hospitals say they want the money to cover the costs of indigent care for smokers all the way back to 1993.

The St. Louis case has gotten the furthest of more than 160 similar cases around the U.S., according to the Post-Dispatch.

To learn more:
- read the St. Louis Post-Dispatch coverage
- check out the St. Louis Business Journal story