The family of deceased baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn has reached a settlement with the U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company, ending a lawsuit filed by the family that sought to hold the company responsible for “killing a baseball legend.”
The family’s attorney, David Casey, confirmed to USA TODAY Sports Friday that the family’s lawsuit has been resolved. He said the terms of the deal were confidential.
“It’s resolved, and it’s been resolved to the satisfaction of all the parties involved,” Casey said. He declined further comment.
The case had a trial date of September 2019 in San Diego Superior Court.
"We assess litigation on a case-by-case basis and determined this agreement was in the best interests of the company," Steve Callahan, a spokesman for the company, told USA TODAY Sports.
Gwynn died in 2014 at age 54 after being diagnosed with cancer of the salivary gland. Gwynn’s wife, son and daughter filed the wrongful death lawsuit in 2016, alleging that the former San Diego Padres star had become “hopelessly addicted” to the company’s products and had used it for more than 30 years, starting in 1977, about 10 years before health warnings appeared on them.
The company is the maker of Skoal and Copenhagen smokeless tobacco. It responded to the Gwynn suit with a basic defense, denying the allegations and saying Gwynn was warned about the alleged risks of using smokeless tobacco.
In a similar lawsuit in 2010, the company agreed to pay $5 million to the family of a North Carolina man who died at age 42 after battling mouth cancer. The company admitted no liability in the settlement with his family.
A settlement in the Gwynn case takes away the ongoing risk for both sides, in addition to whatever the Gwynn family might have received in exchange for ending its lawsuit. If the Gwynn family instead had proceeded to trial without reaching a resolution, it faced an arduous legal battle against a company with the resources and experience to drag out the case and delve deep into Gwynn’s medical history.
Likewise, if the company had proceeded without reaching a settlement, it faced the tough prospect of trying to win a jury trial in San Diego, where Gwynn had become an iconic and beloved hero for the hometown Padres.
Smokeless tobacco previously had been part of the fabric of the game in professional baseball but is now prohibited for use on the field by major league players who debuted after 2016.
The Gwynn family’s lawsuit had sought unspecified damages from the company, including for the loss of economic support, inheritance, his funeral and other expenses.
The U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company is owned by the Altria Group, headquartered in Virginia. Altrias companies also include cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris USA.