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Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield sues tobacco industry for $800 million

New York State's largest health insurer, Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, is doing battle against the tobacco industry. The company is suing major cigarette manufacturers for $800 million in damages, in a lawsuit that went to trial on March 26, 2001, in federal court in New York City.

The insurer alleges that cigarette makers — including Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, Lorillard, Brown & Williamson, and Liggett Myers — misled consumers for at least 50 years about the dangers of smoking. The estimated $800 million in damages represents the tobacco industry's liability for treatment costs of policyholders with lung cancer, emphysema, and other smoking-related diseases, Empire believes.

Empire is one of 20 Blue Cross Blue Shield companies to sue the tobacco companies, and the only one with a case in court. Empire's lawyers, from the New York-based firm Dewey, Ballantine, expect the trial to last eight weeks.

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