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ATLANTA -- A federal appeals panel returned a lawsuit to state court after the Alabama Supreme Court said there was precedent for holding retailers who sold cigarettes responsible for smoking-related illnesses. In a ruling released Monday in the 1998 case originating in Mobile County, the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that retailers can be held responsible under Alabama law for selling cigarettes to minors.
The Atlanta-based appeals court had asked the state Supreme Court to say whether retailers could be held responsible before it issued a ruling, Reuters reported.
"The Alabama Supreme Court answered our question in the affirmative as to the claims against retail defendants premised on negligence and wantonness," the ruling said.
U.S. District Court judges had earlier dismissed claims against the retailers who sold Kalen Oliver Tillman Sr. cigarettes years ago. In January 2000 the court also ruled in favor of the cigarette maker, R. J. Reynolds.
The plaintiff, Brenda D. Tillman, appealed to the 11th Circuit as a result.
Kalen Tillman Sr. died of lung cancer after a lifetime of smoking Winston cigarettes beginning in 1968 at age 12, according to court records. He smoked more than a pack a day and the suit alleges he became addicted to nicotine as a minor because cigarettes were illegally sold to him as a boy.
Tillman began smoking more than two years after the surgeon general's warnings were required to be placed on every package of cigarettes sold in the United States and four years after the surgeon general's 1964 report on the adverse health effects of smoking.
The 11th Circuit, when it asked the state Supreme Court the question about the liability of retailers in smoking-related illnesses, said the issue posed "important and undecided questions of Alabama law."