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US court rejects tobacco firms' plea

Monday, June 09 15:01:31

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected efforts by the tobacco industry to derail thousands of Florida smoker lawsuits, leaving intact 11 awards totalling more than $70 million.

Units of Altria Group, Reynolds American and Lorillard - the nation's three largest cigarette sellers - all asked the Supreme Court to intervene, saying they weren't being afforded an adequate chance to mount a defence. The justices today, without comment, turned away 10 appeals affecting 11 cases.

The tobacco companies said in court papers that they face the prospect of billions of dollars in damages in more than 4,000 pending lawsuits. The cases have already produced more than $450 million in liability, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. told the high court.

The companies say the smokers and their representatives shouldn't be able to rely on a jury's factual findings 15 years ago in a class action case against the industry. Lower courts have said many of those findings, including the conclusion that the companies conspired to conceal the dangers of smoking, can serve as the starting point for individual suits.

The cigarette makers say they are being denied their constitutional right to due process of law.

The Supreme Court should "put an end to this patently unconstitutional practice before it infects thousands of cases and produces billions of dollars in unlawful damages awards," R.J. Reynolds argued in court papers.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly declined to intervene in the Florida tobacco litigation. The justices rejected a similar appeal in October.

Lawyers for the smokers and their families urged the Supreme Court to turn away the latest appeals as well. They said each smoker still must make an individual case that damages are warranted.

The companies "continue to be provided with, and take advantage of, their opportunity to be heard," according to lawyers defending a $600,000 award to the widow of Roger Brown, a longtime smoker who died of esophageal cancer. "They have had 20 years of due process and it continues."

The cases acted on today are: Philip Morris v. Barbanell, 13-1180; Lorillard v. Mrozek, 13-1185; R.J. Reynolds v. Mack, 13-1186; R.J. Reynolds v. Brown, 13-1187; R.J. Reynolds v. Kirkland, 13-1188; R.J. Reynolds v. Koballa, 13-1189; R.J. Reynolds v. Smith, 13-1190; R.J. Reynolds v. Townsend, 13-1191; R.J. Reynolds v. Sury, 13-1192; R.J. Reynolds v. Walker, 13-1193.