Sixteen Illinois hospitals want to know if the recent national agreement between the tobacco industry and state attorneys general bars them from suing cigarette manufacturers for smoking-related expenses. If it does, they want a share of Illinois' $9.1 billion portion of the $206 billion settlement-and then some.
The hospitals asked a state judge late last week to decide whether they can sue for uncompensated care involving smoking-related illnesses. States' tobacco-industry allocations under the national agreement are for the unpaid costs for uninsured and Medicaid patients.
The Illinois hospitals want to proceed with a separate lawsuit against the tobacco industry. They believe their tobacco-related costs may be between $1.5 billion and $2 billion, said Douglass Marshall, an attorney for the hospitals, who is in the Peoria office of the Chicago-based law firm Hinshaw & Culbertson.
If the Cook County Circuit Court decides the national agreement settles hospital claims, "we want the tobacco companies to add money to the agreement," Marshall said.
Earlier last week, 53 Missouri hospitals filed a motion similar to the Illinois hospitals' in St. Louis Circuit Court. Those hospitals already filed a lawsuit against 27 defendants, including tobacco companies, distributors, trade groups and public relations firms. They claim at least $1 billion in costs.
The state of Missouri is granted $4.5 billion under the national agreement.
The Missouri hospitals were the first private not-for-profit hospitals to claim separate damages. Public hospitals in Texas, which settled separately from the national agreement in July, persuaded the tobacco industry to add $2.3 billion to the Texas portion of the settlement. That brings the state's total settlement to $17.3 billion.
Whatever the court's answer to the hospitals' motion, hospitals from around the country might still take legal action to recover the uncompensated costs of treating patients with smoking-related illnesses.
Separately, three U.S. senators last week asked U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno to follow the states' lead and sue the tobacco industry on behalf of Medicare, Medicaid and other federal health programs.