ANALYTICS: Juul’s Response to Thousands of Lawsuits

E-cigarette company Juul Labs, according to Docket Alarm’s database of court filings and analytics, has been involved as a party in at least 2,753 lawsuits since the beginning of 2019 through November 2020. In the large majority of those suits, about 95 percent, Juul is named as a defendant. The main cause of action for the cases, cited in at least 2,011 lawsuits, is Product Liability. Other case types include antitrust, intellectual property, and suits brought under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. 

The Allegations

The lawsuits in general claim that Juul’s marketing practices did not give the various plaintiffs sufficient information about the product to allow them to understand the harmful health effects using the company’s products, specifically e-cigarettes, would cause. Other defendants commonly listed in the lawsuits include Pax Labs, Inc. and Ploom, Inc., other Juul entities, and Altria which purportedly helped Juul expand and become the dominant company selling e-cigarettes when it invested in Juul

Complaints against Juul include allegations that the company was attempting to maximize its profits by creating an addictive nicotine delivery device, and that it was meant to create and sustain addiction.  In addition, the company is accused of targeting a youth market and “creating a youth e-cigarette epidemic and public health crisis.” The complaints purport that Juul misled consumers in its marketing to believe that its e-cigarettes contained less nicotine than they actually do, and delayed complying with regulations for its products, in order to increase sales. 

The many plaintiffs are seeking damages for injuries from the use of Juul products, including for pain and suffering, all medical bills, and mental and emotional impacts or loss of enjoyment of life. Lawsuits filed by those related to another who used Juul products, purportedly causing the individual’s death or serious health impacts, ask for damages to compensate for their losses and mental and emotional impacts as well. 

Juul argues against many of these complaints, claiming that the proper discovery was not submitted or that a Plaintiff Fact Sheet was not submitted within the required time frame. 

Filing Patterns

Currently, lawsuits against the company are filed in general more frequently than the high average of 3.6 lawsuits a day. Docket Alarm data reports an average of 5.4 lawsuits filed with Juul listed as a party during the last three months. Of course, the day-to-day number of suits varies; on Friday, December 4 about 12 lawsuits were filed against the company, but on the previous day there were only two. The lawsuits against Juul typically trickle in by days or weeks, but some days they come in droves. On November 30, at least 36 lawsuits were filed against the company. The two months where Juul was involved in over 250 new lawsuits were August of this year and October of last year. 

In mid-April, the company received over a hundred lawsuits in a few days. Some of the new lawsuits cited studies arguing that the use of e-cigarettes could make contracting COVID-19 more dangerous. Beasley Allen, which represented some of the plaintiffs who filed on the highest day, cited that an amended complaint in the case said “JUUL users are also at greater risk of suffering more serious complications if they contract the coronavirus” and asked for the company to pay for medical monitoring related to COVID-19. Outside of this short-lived rise in cases, there has not been a significant change in litigation against Juul due to the pandemic. 

The Consolidated Case

At the time of analysis, 1,523 of the cases against Juul are being heard in the Northern District of California. Some of these have been consolidated into In Re: Juul Labs, Inc. Marketing, Sales Practices, and Products Liability Litigation. According to Docket Alarm, the rate of filing against Juul for the last three months in this court is higher than normal, at 4.5 filings per day. 

The complaints in this case are filed by a variety of plaintiffs. Broad groups include individuals who claim they have been harmed because of Juul’s practices, relatives of individuals who have died purportedly from the effects of using Juul’s products, school districts, various jurisdictions, and others who feel they have lost health or spent money based on the practices of Juul. Lawsuits from school districts and schools claim that Juul contributed in causing youth to become addicted to its e-cigarettes, leading to preventative and educational expenses. 

Many of the initial complaints are very similar and use the same form; for example, one lawsuit filed in late November in the Northern District of California by Tara and Harvey Trent contained a short form complaint referencing the 290-page consolidated master complaint for personal injury allegations within the larger Juul Labs marketing lawsuit. 

The plaintiffs in this suit selected to file their suit against the main defendants on the form, including Juul; Altria Group, Inc.;  Philip Morris USA, Inc.; Altria Client Services LLC; Altria Group Distribution Company; and Altria Enterprises LLC.; known as the management defendants. The manufacturing defendants included Mother Murphy’s Labs, Inc.; Alternative Ingredients, Inc.; Tobacco Technology, Inc.; and eLiquitech, Inc.. but not the distributors or retailers, which includes gas station companies and Walmart. The short form complaint was modified in November from the previous complaint.  

The short-form complaint lists a wide variety of symptoms that plaintiffs have claimed were the cause of their injury in multiple categories including addiction, mental health, cognitive, cardiovascular, neurologic, and respiratory. It lists certain health effects in each category and allows for individuals to specify other health effects outside of what is listed. Plaintiffs filing a short complaint can make claims under 19 different causes, including design and manufacturing defects, failure to warn, negligence in representation, fraud, conspiracy, breach of warranty, unjust enrichment, wrongful death, survival action, and loss of consortium. 

The co-lead counsel, those who filed the consolidated master complaint for the plaintiffs in June 2020, include Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, Girard Sharp LLP, and Keller Rohrback LLP; however, individual plaintiffs have a wide variety of firms representing them in addition to these firms. 

Juul’s Representation

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher represents Juul in many of its product liability suits, the company represented Juul as the suits were beginning to be filed on a large scale in 2018 and 2019, and has continued to represent them. Kirkland & Ellis has also defended Juul in many of its suits. The company is represented in that case by these two firms as well as Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison, Dowd Bennett, Elliott Greenleaf, Foley & Lardner, Dechert, Munger, Tolles & Olson, McGuireWoods, Squire Patton Boggs, Jackson Kelly, and Lightfoot Franklin & White.  (Many of the product liability suits go directly into the consolidated case and are not treated by the Docket Alarm analytics as a separate suit.)

Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan represents Juul in 46 cases, a similar number in comparison to Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, however, it primarily represents Juul as a plaintiff. These suits were also filed primarily in the last year. Juul is a plaintiff in 85 suits filed in the last few years, most of which are patent suits. The company has claimed that the system it developed for e-cigarettes and its marks which have become well known are being used by other companies in order to sell more products.  In a suit filed on November 30, the company claimed that its products are “targets” for many companies hoping to use its efforts and investments to make more profits. 

Moving Forward

A majority of these suits are still being filed, and Juul is consistently filing motions to dismiss the claims against it, however, it is still unclear how the cases will end. Juul has, according to a press release from September, committed to “reset,” to earn the trust of stakeholders and combat underage-use of its products. The company said that through a long-term approach it plans to “end the era of the combustible cigarette” by providing better alternatives, such as its e-cigarette.

The analytics in this article are powered by One-Click Analytics from Docket Alarm. To learn more, schedule a demo with the Docket Alarm team.