Nevada court reviews casino dealers' secondhand smoke case

Lawyers for Nevada casino dealers and major tobacco companies quarreled Thursday over the scope of tests to see whether exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke has impaired the dealers' health.

The Nevada Supreme Court arguments are part of a U.S. District Court case that began with a 1997 lawsuit by dealers that alleges tobacco companies lied about adverse health effects of breathing secondhand smoke.

U.S. District Judge Phil Pro of Las Vegas asked the state Supreme Court to weigh in on the medical monitoring issue - and the dealers' lawyers urged the state justices to do so and not worry about opening ''the floodgates of litigation.''

Daniel Polsenberg added that the monitoring makes sense and the high court should produce guidelines that are broader than those suggested by the tobacco companies.

Dennis Kennedy, arguing for the 18 tobacco companies sued by the dealers, asked for a narrow standard - and some justices seemed to agree with that view. A ruling will be issued at a later date.

If the scope of the testing is too broad, Kennedy contended that tobacco companies could face huge judgments based on a finding of ''any increased risk'' to an employee's health due to secondhand smoke.

''Who knows what that means or where it leads,'' he said, adding that liability could extend beyond the cigarette companies to casinos and other businesses.

Kennedy also said the issue should be resolved by the state Legislature rather than the courts. But Polsenberg said courts in more than 30 other states already have handled similar cases.

The lawsuit that started the Nevada case was filed by Tony Badillo, president of the National Federation of Gaming Employees, and eight other dealers.

The complaint, which named R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Brown & Williamson, the Tobacco Institute and others, sought compensatory damages and a finding that the case qualifies as a class-action lawsuit.

Badillo, a Las Vegas resident who has worked as a dealer for 40 years, said the main purpose of the lawsuit is to get medical monitoring for dealers who have had years of exposure to secondhand smoke.


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