Can I Join a Juul Class Action Lawsuit?

Make sure you know your legal options If your case involves health problems related to vaping.

By , J.D., University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated by Charles Crain, Attorney (UC Berkeley School of Law)

Thousands of lawsuits have been filed nationwide over Juul and other e-cigarette/vaping products. When so many consumers sue one company (or a few companies that make similar products), people often think that joining a class action lawsuit is their only legal option. But if you've been harmed by vaping, it's important to understand that a class action isn't necessarily the best way to seek compensation.

Before you decide on the approach that makes sense for you, it's important to understand what's required for a successful personal injury claim against a vaping company. You should also know the basics of how all the litigation over e-cigarettes could affect your own case.

When You Can File a Lawsuit Against Juul or Another E-Cigarette Maker

Most lawsuits over the safety of products like e-cigarettes rely on civil law fault theory known as "product liability," which can be used to hold manufacturers like Juul responsible for illness and injury caused by a dangerous or defective product, or for failure to adequately warn consumers of risks associated with the product's use.

So, before you can file a personal injury lawsuit against an e-cigarette company—and before a lawyer will take your case, in most instances—you'll probably need to show that you've suffered an injury or illness (or other type of harm) that might be attributable to vaping. Keep in mind that this sort of claim is different from, for example, a claim based on the idea that Juul caused you economic harm by engaging in misleading marketing, or by misrepresenting whether or not its products are addictive.

Diagnosing a Vaping-Related Illness

Showing that you've been harmed by vaping usually starts with an accurate diagnosis of lung illness or some other health problem. (Addiction is a bit of a gray area when it comes to a diagnosable condition, but an attorney will know how to best position your claim.)

It's important to understand why diagnosis is crucial in a "mass tort" case. Diagnosis goes straight to the losses ("damages") that can be attributed to the defendant manufacturer's wrongdoing. That means both:

  • "economic" damages like the cost of medical treatment, and
  • "noneconomic" damages like your pain and suffering.

We'll talk more below about how damages usually work in a vaping case.

How Your Smoking and Vaping History Could Affect Your Claim

If you're trying to link a particular illness to use of a particular e-cigarette product, it's important that your smoking and vaping history not be too convoluted. Otherwise, your ability to prove your case against a particular manufacturer becomes much harder.

To understand how complex the causation issue can become, look no further than the 2019 outbreak of what federal health agencies called "e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury" (EVALI). According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 2,800 hospitalizations (including 68 deaths) may have been linked to a Vitamin E-derivative oil known as "Vitamin E acetate."

Vitamin E acetate is found in a number of foods and nutritional supplements, as well as in the kinds of cannabis products that are often used in combination with e-cigarettes. It is only known to cause harm when inhaled (as when vaped). But Vitamin E acetate is not found in Juul and other popular vaping products. It's only when an e-cigarette user modifies the manufacturer's product, or adds cannabis or certain other oils to the manufacturer's product, that Vitamin E acetate-related illness can occur.

That opens the door for the manufacturer to claim that it was the product modification or addition that caused the consumer's vaping-related illness, not the e-cigarette itself. In legal terms, a manufacturer like Juul could make the argument that the consumer in this scenario wasn't engaging in an "intended use" of the product, so any resulting injury or illness isn't the manufacturer's fault.

Learn more about proving a product liability case.

None of this is to suggest that vaping nicotine e-cigarettes, on its own, won't cause lung illness and other serious respiratory problems (even those that mirror EVALI). It's simply to illustrate that establishing clear liability can get complicated when a potential plaintiff's smoking history includes something more than factory-made e-cigarette products. The fault picture gets even cloudier when the plaintiff has a history of smoking traditional cigarettes.

What You Should Know About Juul Class Actions and Juul MDL

In addition to individual personal injury lawsuits, there are two main procedural options when many claimants sue one defendant like Juul Labs, Inc.:

Class Action Lawsuits Against Vaping Companies

A class action is one large lawsuit in which one or a few designated class representatives bring suit on behalf of many other similarly-harmed individuals (the "class"). This representative (usually through a team of lawyers) handles the litigation on behalf of the class, and what happens in the case is legally binding on all class members who did not "opt out" beforehand.

Class action lawsuits are often well-suited to claims like false advertising, where it's easy to see how everyone in the class was harmed in the same (or very similar) ways. But class actions aren't usually an effective or fair way to handle cases in which a large number of people have been harmed in significantly different ways—even if that harm was caused by use of the same defective or unreasonably dangerous product.

Even if several people all have health problems linked to Juul (or another company's vaping products), there are likely to be significant differences in their medical histories and diagnoses. So a class action lawsuit isn't likely to be the best approach to this kind of claim.

Multidistrict Litigation Against Juul

Multidistrict litigation (MDL) consolidates multiple cases into a single federal district, before a single judge, who shepherds the MDL through the pre-trial process, including rulings about evidence and discovery that will apply to every individual case. One of the goals of MDL is to make it easier for the parties to find an acceptable way to settle the cases.

Litigation against Juul is an example of MDL leading to a settlement. Thousands of lawsuits against the company were consolidated into MDL before a judge in U.S. District Court (Northern District of California). Several hundred lawsuits in the MDL focused on recovering damages for health problems related to use of Juul, including:

  • lung disease (such as vaping product use associated lung injury, or EVALI)
  • nicotine poisoning
  • heart problems, and
  • stroke.

There were also a number of class actions in the MDL, but those focused on consumer fraud and misrepresentation claims, not allegations of Juul-related illness or injury.

In 2022 Juul agreed to settle the lawsuits in the MDL for $1.7 billion.

How Class Action Lawsuits and MDL Could Affect Your Claim

The fact that there have been other lawsuits against Juul—including class actions and MDL—doesn't mean your individual claim can't succeed. But if you're considering a lawsuit you should speak with an attorney who can explain how class actions and MDL impact your case.

For example, in certain situations a potential plaintiff loses their right to file a separate lawsuit if they had a chance to join a class action and declined to do so.

On the other hand, sometimes previous litigation can be helpful to potential new plaintiffs. For example, the outcome of MDL could help someone with a similar claim decide how likely they are to succeed with their own lawsuit.

Working With a Lawyer on Your Juul Injury Case

In some kinds of injury scenarios (like a minor car accident in which you suffered only bumps and bruises), it might make sense to handle your own injury claim, as long as you're confident in your ability to negotiate a favorable outcome.

But a lawsuit against a big company like Juul or R.J. Reynolds isn't the kind of legal action you want to try to take on your own. These manufacturing giants have endless resources to defend themselves in and out of the courtroom, so having an experienced lawyer on your side is critical to making sure you get the best result.

How to Find the Right Lawyer for Your Vaping Case

It's important to find a lawyer who has experience handling lawsuits like yours. But it's just as important to work with someone you trust, and who makes you feel comfortable with the process.

To make sure you work with the right lawyer, you should ask questions like:

  • How long has the lawyer been practicing? How much of the lawyer's experience involves personal injury cases in general, or product liability claims in particular?
  • Has the lawyer handed cases against large companies with vast financial resources and large teams of experienced attorneys?
  • Would the lawyer you're communicating with also be the one who handles your case (at least primarily)? It's common practice for multiple members of a firm (lawyers, clerks, support personnel) to work on a client's case, but it helps to know whom you'll be dealing with directly.
  • What would the terms of your attorney-client fee agreement look like? It's highly unusual for a product liability lawsuit to be handled under anything other than a contingency fee agreement (in which the lawyer gets a share of any settlement or court award you receive).

Be Open and Honest With Your Lawyer

It's crucial to be forthright with any lawyer you talk with about your potential case. It's especially important to tell your lawyer everything about:

  • any history of smoking traditional cigarettes or marijuana
  • whether you added any ingredients (like THC or another oil) to an e-cigarette product, or
  • modified the product in any way before using it.

The same goes for any preexisting medical conditions, including:

  • past bouts with pneumonia, or
  • a diagnosis of a chronic condition like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

Details like these are bound to come out at some point—for example, during your deposition or in responses to interrogatories. So it's best to share all relevant information right at the outset.

The Time Limit for Filing a Vaping Case

A statute of limitations is a law that sets a time limit on the right to file a lawsuit in court. If you miss the deadline that applies to your case, you've almost certainly lost your right to get any kind of legal remedy (including money) for the harm you've suffered.

Each state has its own statutes of limitations, and there can be different deadlines depending on the kind of case you want to file. In some states, the deadline that will apply to an e-cigarette safety lawsuit is the same as the one that applies to most personal injury lawsuits. But it's also possible for a state to have a separate statute of limitations deadline for product liability lawsuits.

In a vaping case, the so-called "discovery rule" can affect the deadline for filing a lawsuit. This rule says that the clock only starts ticking when:

  • you discover (or should have discovered) that you were harmed by the product, or
  • you were diagnosed with (or started experiencing symptoms of) a health problem caused by the product.

People often begin suffering the health effects of smoking or vaping years after quitting. Without the discovery rule, the statute of limitations might run out before someone even realizes they've suffered a harm. The discovery rule prevents this unfair outcome, but it's still important to act quickly if you think you've been hurt by vaping.

These rules and deadlines can be confusing, so this is an area where a lawyer can help you understand your options.

How Much Is My Vaping Illness Case Worth?

As with any injury claim, the value of a lawsuit for vaping-related injuries or illness will depend on the specifics of your case, including your diagnosis and prognosis, and the subjective impact of your health problems.

As we discussed above, in a lawsuit against Juul or another e-cigarette manufacturer you could be entitled to both economic and non-economic damages. This could include compensation for:

  • medical treatment of your lung disease or other vaping-related health issues, including the cost of any care you'll need in the future
  • any income you've lost as a result of your vaping-related illness and your inability to work, plus your "diminished earning capacity" or inability to work in the future
  • any long-term disability caused by your vaping-related illness, and your prospects for a full recovery, and
  • your "pain and suffering," including not just physical pain and discomfort, but mental anguish, anxiety, sleeplessness, and other negative effects of your illness and necessary treatment.

It's important to understand that, if the full extent and impact of your vaping-related health problems aren't clear, it's not in your best interest to consider settling your case. Once you accept a settlement, you can't go back and reopen your claim, even if you learn that your vaping-related health problems are worse than you first thought. So you shouldn't settle until you have a clear, final picture of your damages.

The Next Steps in Your Vaping Case

As we've seen, there's a lot to consider—and some complicated legal factors to understand—if you're considering a lawsuit over the health effects of vaping. If you want to get a better idea of how strong a case you might have, it will be helpful to talk to an attorney. A good lawyer will consider the facts of your individual case and help you determine your best course of action.

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