A Baltimore law firm has filed a class action lawsuit against the state of Maryland, seeking as much as three-fourths of the state's $4.6 billion tobacco settlement on behalf of Medicaid patients suffering from smoking-related illnesses.
"The tobacco industry paid a lot of money to the state because it victimized a lot of people," said Marc Seldin Rosen, of Scanlan, Rosen & Shar.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in Baltimore Circuit Court, is based on federal regulations governing the Medicaid program, which pays for health care for the poor. The regulations say that if a state collects more in any claim for reimbursement of Medicaid costs than it spent, the remainder must go to the Medicaid patients involved.
Similar class actions have been filed in at least 15 states since January, said Kendrick Macdowell, a lawyer with the Washington firm of Patton Boggs who is helping coordinate the legal challenge.
Maryland sued the tobacco industry in 1996 seeking reimbursement of Medicaid money spent to treat ailing smokers, as well as damages for violation of antitrust and consumer protection laws.
State Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. agreed in November 1998 to settle the case as part of a national agreement that will pay Maryland more than $4.6 billion over the next 25 years.
The state's lawsuit was intended to recover tax money spent by the state on smoking-related treatment and to force the tobacco industry to change its marketing practices, not to recover money for individual smokers, who have the right to sue cigarette makers.
But Rosen noted that few individual suits have been successful, and he said his class action may be Medicaid patients' only hope for compensation for damage from smoking.
He estimated that the state spent less than $1.5 billion to pay smokers' medical bills and said the remaining $3 billion should go to ailing smokers such as Margie E. Glover, 54, a former correctional officer from Baltimore who has emphysema. She is the sole plaintiff named in the lawsuit as a class representative.
Deputy Attorney General Carmen M. Shepard said the lawsuit is without merit, partly because Maryland's recovery was in part based on antitrust and consumer protection claims unrelated to the Medicaid program. She said the money will be spent on medical research, anti-smoking programs and other public benefits.
Another class action lawsuit, filed on behalf of all Maryland smokers by Peter G. Angelos, has been hung up in the Maryland Court of Appeals for more than a year. Arguments in that case will be heard in Annapolis tomorrow.