E-cigarette manufacturers like Juul Labs, Inc. have come under intense scrutiny in recent years, with thousands of consumers (and a sizable number of states, cities, and school districts) taking legal action over the safety and advertising of "vaping" products. In June 2022, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered Juul Labs, Inc. to pull all of its vaping products off the market in the U.S. (though the order has been put on hold while Juul appeals that decision).
If you're thinking about filing a lawsuit over a vaping-related illness like lung disease or nicotine poisoning, or over an e-cigarette manufacturer's questionable marketing tactics, start here to understand the legal landscape, and your options.
Juul and several other companies manufacture "e-cigarettes", which work by heating a liquid (typically including nicotine and artificial flavors and other additives) to produce a smoke-like aerosol that users inhale. Though initially touted as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes, most e-cigarette products are essentially nicotine delivery systems (the Centers for Disease Control estimates that 99 percent of e-cigarettes sold in the U.S. contain nicotine). These products are relatively new—Juul, which is estimated to account for around 75 percent of e-cigarette sales, was introduced in 2015—and while the health risks associated with e-cigarette use (or "vaping") aren't clear, the picture that's coming into focus isn't exactly a positive one, with at least one vaping-related condition already earning a clinical name ("e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury", or EVALI). And companies like Juul are under scrutiny for allegedly targeting teenage consumers while hiding the highly-addictive nature of its products.
In recent years, thousands of e-cigarette users have filed injury lawsuits against Juul (and other entities), seeking compensation for illnesses linked to vaping. Many plaintiffs also claim that the companies made fraudulent claims about their products, and purposefully targeted underage consumers, who quickly became addicted. Specifically, plaintiffs in these lawsuits allege that Juul and others:
It's not just e-cigarette users who are taking companies like Juul to court. Nationwide, a countless number of state attorneys general, cities, counties, and school districts have filed lawsuits against Juul and other e-cigarette manufacturers, alleging that the companies' marketing and promotional tactics intentionally target teenage consumers, and that the companies have made deceptive claims about the safety and addiction potential of their products.
In late 2021, Juul agreed to a $14.5 million settlement in a lawsuit filed by the Arizona Attorney General's Office. The state had sued the e-cigarette giant for its marketing practices in 2020, accusing the company of (among other wrongful acts) targeting young consumers with its products while downplaying the risks of vaping. Under the terms of the November 2021 settlement, according to the Arizona AG, Juul agreed "to make significant changes to its corporate practices, ensuring JUUL products are not marketed or sold to youth in Arizona."
A few months earlier, in June 2021, Juul agreed to pay $40 million to resolve North Carolina's claims that the company was to blame for the spike in underage vaping in the state. That deal—which came shortly before the state's lawsuit against Juul was set to go to trial—also requires the company to take a number of significant steps to keep its products (and its advertising practices) away from young people.
E-cigarette makers face marketing-based scrutiny at the federal level as well. On March 1, 2021 the Federal Trade Commission ordered Juul, R.J. Reynolds, and three other e-cigarette manufacturers to turn over a wide swath of information on their advertising and promotional spending, including details on product giveaways, product placement, and outreach practices on social media and on college campuses.
In June 2022, Juul Labs Inc. became the subject of the most impactful vaping-related regulatory decision to date, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered the company to stop selling vaping products in the U.S. Juul has appealed this decision, leaving the FDA order on hold (for now).
The scope and severity of health problems that could be caused by vaping aren't fully understood, not least because e-cigarettes haven't been on the market very long, so any data that might be derived from long-term use isn't available. But the American Lung Association has concluded that "e-cigarettes both contain and emit a number of potentially toxic substances" that can cause or contribute to irreversible lung damage and disease.
Lawsuits against Juul and other e-cigarette makers have alleged a wide range of health problems, including:
According to WebMD, vaping can also cause or contribute to conditions as varied as lung cancer, brain damage, and mouth/gum disease.
Whether or not you've used Juul or another vaping product, if you have concerns about specific symptoms, get in touch with a doctor rather than self-diagnosing on this or any other website.
When weighing your legal options, the first thing to understand is that before you can file a personal injury lawsuit against Juul Labs, Inc. or another manufacturer of e-cigarette products—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. Although claims based on addiction to e-cigarettes have been gathering steam lately (especially by teen consumers), they're typically accompanied by allegations that Juul (or another defendant) engaged in marketing tactics that could be seen as a form of harm.
The fact that you've used Juul or another vaping product isn't usually enough to file an injury- or illness-related lawsuit. There may be other non-injury kinds of legal claims you can make (such as the consumer fraud-oriented actions we highlighted above), but an injury/illness-related lawsuit requires measurable harm, and it 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).
Diagnosis goes straight to the losses ("damages") that can be attributed to the defendant manufacturer's wrongdoing in these kinds of cases. That means both "economic" damages (cost of necessary medical treatment, lost income, etc.) and "noneconomic" damages ("pain and suffering" and other subjective impacts). Learn more about why diagnosis is crucial in a "mass tort" case.
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.
It should be noted here that it's not just diagnosis that's crucial to the success of a lawsuit over vaping-related health problems. Especially if you're trying to link a particular illness to use of a particular e-cigarette product, it's important that your smoking/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), over 2,800 hospitalizations (including 68 deaths) may have been linked to a Vitamin E-derivative oil found in the kinds of cannabis products that are often used in combination with e-cigarettes. This oil, sometimes called "Vitamin E acetate," is found in a number of foods and nutritional supplements, and 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.
For details on the viability of your particular Juul/vaping illness lawsuit based on your smoking history, talk to an attorney.
MDL is short for multi-district litigation, a federal court process that can be used to consolidate dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of individual claims into a single court, before a single judge, who will issue a number of pre-trial rulings about evidence and the information exchange process ("discovery") that will apply to all cases. A few representative cases will proceed as "bellwether trials," typically meant to spur settlement talks. But if no global settlement is reached, any claim can go back to its respective home court and proceed on its own.
The biggest vaping-related MDL, In re: Juul Labs, Inc. Marketing, Sales Practices & Products Liability Litigation MDL No. 2913, is before Judge William Orrick III in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. This action includes several hundred claims seeking compensation for health problems related to use of Juul (including one of the first lawsuits seeking to hold a manufacturer liable for the death of an e-cigarette user) and a number of class actions alleging consumer fraud and misrepresentation.
A handful of proposed class action lawsuits in the MDL seek to combine both personal injury and consumer fraud claims, but it's not clear that Judge Orrick will approve a class action lawsuit consisting mostly of vaping illness claims.
When you're mainly seeking compensation for vaping-related illness or addiction (as opposed to a remedy for deceptive marketing and other consumer fraud-related allegations against these companies), your best strategy in terms of joining an existing consolidated action is MDL. Learn more about Juul class actions versus MDL.
This question raises the issue of the statute of limitations, which is a law that sets a time limit on the right to file a lawsuit in court. Miss the deadline set by the statute of limitations that applies to your particular kind of case, and you've almost certainly lost your right to get any kind of legal remedy (money) for the harm you've suffered.
In certain states, the statute-of-limitations deadline that will apply to a Juul/e-cigarette safety lawsuit is the same as the one that applies to most personal injury lawsuits. But in some states, a separate statute of limitations for product liability lawsuits might be on the books. Whichever statute applies, you'll typically have two to three years to get your lawsuit filed (more time in some states, less in others).
But when does the statute of limitations "clock" start? Not necessarily on the date you last used Juul or another vaping product. Instead, under the "discovery rule," the clock might start only when you discover (or the law thinks you should have discovered, based on the circumstances) that you were harmed by the product, or on the day you were diagnosed with (or started experiencing symptoms of) a health problem caused by the product.
Let's say you last used Juul on June 1, 2020, but you didn't begin experiencing health problems (symptoms of nicotine poisoning, for example) until December 15, 2020. Under the discovery rule, the statute of limitations "clock" might not start until December 15, 2020.
(Note: if a significant number of years have passed between your last use of a vaping/e-cigarette product and the onset of your illness, a separate time limit called the "statute of repose" could prevent you from bringing a lawsuit. But given that most vaping products didn't come on the market until 2015, this larger deadline might not be an issue.)
Talk to an attorney to understand how lawsuit-filing deadlines work in your state, and how they might apply to your specific situation.
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.
In a lawsuit against Juul or some other e-cigarette manufacturer, the universe of your "damages" typically includes compensation for:
It's important to note here 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 Juul/e-cigarette lawsuit, and you certainly shouldn't accept a settlement offer at this stage. The strategy here is to wait until you have a clear, final picture of your damages, because 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.
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.
So, how do you go about finding the right lawyer for you and your vaping/e-cigarette lawsuit? Online resources like Nolo are a great place to start. You can use the Chat and Case Evaluation tools available right on this page to connect with a lawyer near you, and get an initial read on the viability of your case against Juul or another e-cigarette manufacturer. Asking for a referral to an attorney from someone you trust is another great way to find legal help. Even if that lawyer doesn't have experience with product liability cases, chances are they might be able to recommend someone in their professional network who might be a good fit.
Remember, you're not just looking for someone who has experience handling lawsuits like yours; you're also looking for someone you can trust and whom you feel comfortable with.
Once you've narrowed your list of candidates down to a handful, what kinds of questions should you ask an attorney before you hire them to represent you in your lawsuit over injury or illness caused by e-cigarettes/vaping? Here are a few areas to touch on:
And don't forget to touch on anything else that's relevant to your particular situation, including special needs you might have, and any practicalities. For example, could you benefit from an attorney who speaks a language other than English? Is the lawyer's office relatively close to public transportation, if that's how you typically travel?
Getting questions like these answered is important, but it's also crucial to be forthright with any lawyer you talk with about your potential case, especially when it comes to any history of smoking traditional cigarettes or marijuana use, and whether or not you added any ingredients (i.e. THC or another oil) to the e-cigarette product, or modified the product in any way before using it. The same goes for any preexisting medical conditions, like 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 (during your deposition or in responses to interrogatories, for examples) so it's best to share all relevant information right at the outset.