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Sun Goo Lee 1 Article
Proving Causation With Epidemiological Evidence in Tobacco Lawsuits
Sun Goo Lee
J Prev Med Public Health. 2016;49(2):80-96.   Published online March 31, 2016
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AbstractAbstract PDFSupplementary Material
Recently, a series of lawsuits were filed in Korea claiming tort liability against tobacco companies. The Supreme Court has already issued decisions in some cases, while others are still pending. The primary issue in these cases is whether the epidemiological evidence submitted by the plaintiffs clearly proves the causal relationship between smoking and disease as required by civil law. Proving causation is difficult in tobacco lawsuits because factors other than smoking are involved in the development of a disease, and also because of the lapse of time between smoking and the manifestation of the disease. The Supreme Court (Supreme Court Decision, 2011Da22092, April 10, 2014) has imposed some limitations on using epidemiological evidence to prove causation in tobacco lawsuits filed by smokers and their family members, but these limitations should be reconsidered. First, the Court stated that a disease can be categorized as specific or non-specific, and for each disease type, causation can be proven by different types of evidence. However, the concept of specific diseases is not compatible with multifactor theory, which is generally accepted in the field of public health. Second, when the epidemiological association between the disease and the risk factor is proven to be significant, imposing additional burdens of proof on the plaintiff may considerably limit the plaintiff’s right to recovery, but the Court required the plaintiffs to provide additional information such as health condition and lifestyle. Third, the Supreme Court is not giving greater weight to the evidential value of epidemiological study results because the Court focuses on the fact that these studies were group-level, not individual-level. However, group-level studies could still offer valuable information about individual members of the group, e.g., probability of causation.


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JPMPH : Journal of Preventive Medicine and Public Health