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Judge Dismisses Suits Against Cigarette Firm : Courts: He tells family of woman who died last year of lung cancer that only one wrongful death action can be filed.

October 14, 1994|LISA RESPERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Los Angeles small claims court judge Thursday blocked an attempt by the family of a woman who died of lung cancer to use the Municipal Court to pursue damages against the Lorillard Inc. tobacco company.

In dismissing the case in which the family of the late Della Koenigshofer sought to pursue a novel strategy for making cigarette companies liable for smoking-related deaths, Municipal Court Judge Carl J. West said, "This isn't the court to hear these arguments."

The case against Lorillard, which makes the Kent cigarettes Koenigshofer smoked for years before her death last year, could not be pursued because the "breach of warranty" claim brought by the family would have had to have been filed by the consumer of the cigarettes, West told the Koenigshofer family.

In pursuing actions against five cigarette companies that produced brands Della Koenigshofer smoked, the Koenigshofer family filed a flurry of lawsuits in different small claims courts. Della Koenigshofer's husband, George A. Koenigshofer, his son, George Allen Koenigshofer and grandson Paul Koenigshofer filed the Los Angeles suit dismissed by West.

A Koenigshofer daughter and three other sons filed several still-pending suits in small claims court in Riverside.

West told the family members that only one wrongful death action can be filed and that the suits would have to be consolidated.

The family expressed frustration at not being able to produce what it says is evidence that the tobacco company failed to adhere to the provisions of the civil code.

"They failed to meet the conditions for immunity, and we will prove that if given the chance," said George Allen Koenigshofer.

The family may appeal to a higher court but may not refile in Los Angeles small claims court.

James G. Bohm, an attorney for Lorillard, said the company was pleased with the judge's decision.

Della Koenigshofer was 70 when she died but came from a long-lived family, her children said. Koenigshofer smoked Lorillard's Kent cigarettes during the years she lived in Van Nuys.

Later, while living in Hemet, the family said, she smoked various brands made by Philip Morris, Reynolds, American Tobacco, Brown & Williamson and Liggett Group--all of which are named in the Riverside cases.

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