New York The tobacco industry was back on trial Monday, this time accused by New York's largest insurance company of conspiring to conceal the risks of smoking.
Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield wants Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds and other cigarette makers to pay at least $800 million in damages for cancer treatments.
Empire attorney Paul Baschorr called the figure "the price tag of the defendants' dishonesty."
In opening statements at the fraud trial in federal court, Baschorr said the tobacco industry had "repeatedly lied and deceived the American public" over the last 40 years.
He said the conspiracy had resulted in an avalanche of insurance claims for lung cancer and other smoking-related ailments.
"Now it's Empire's turn to submit a bill to the tobacco industry," Baschorr said.
Tobacco lawyers have said their clients never plotted to hide the hazards of smoking. The trial is expected to last two months.
The case is the second to go to trial out of a backlog of 10 lawsuits brought mostly by third parties, including health insurance groups, that say the tobacco industry should share the cost of treating cancer patients.
The first trial pitted a trust representing asbestos workers many of them with lung cancer and their heirs against R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris, Brown & Williamson and other cigarette makers. The trial ended in January with a hung jury.
Tobacco lawyers have argued such cases have no legal basis, noting that appeals courts have ruled that third-party plaintiffs are too remote to seek damages.