Florida court tosses $145 billion tobacco verdict

By Steve Gonzalez | Jul 6, 2006

The largest jury verdict in U.S. history has been tossed by the Florida Supreme Court today.

It upheld a lower court's decision to overturn a $145 billion class action verdict against Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds and other cigarette makers. A Florida appeals court threw out the verdict in May 2003 calling it "grossly excessive" and "proof of a runaway jury."

In July of 2000, a Miami jury ordered the cigarette companies to pay $145 billion to Florida smokers on allegations of consumer fraud.

This is the second huge win for Philip Morris within a year.

The Florida decision comes after the Illinois Supreme Court ruled on Dec. 15, 2005, that Philip Morris doesn't have to pay a $10.1 billion damage award to smokers of its light cigarettes.

Madison County Circuit Judge Nicholas Byron issued the verdict in 2003, citing the defendant duped smokers into believing light cigarettes were safer than regular ones.

Byron called the conduct "outrageous and evil."

The Illinois Supreme Court held that the Federal Trade Commission authorized tobacco companies to characterize cigarettes as "light" or "low tar and nicotine."

The $145 billion award was strictly punitive damages and tobacco companies have said that the verdict would bankrupt them.

In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court said that most punitive damage awards that exceed compensatory damages by 10 times or more are unconstitutional.

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