US court revives USD 10B verdict in cigarette suit

US court revives USD 10B verdict in cigarette suit

An appellate court in Illinois has reinstated a decade-old USD 10.1 billion verdict in a class-action lawsuit against Phillip Morris USA that found America's biggest cigarette maker misled customers about "light" and "low tar" designations.

Philip Morris swiftly decried Tuesday's ruling by a three-judge panel of the Mount Vernon-based 5th District Appellate Court, saying it would ask the Illinois Supreme Court to review the matter.

As that takes place, Philip Morris said, the latest decision is automatically stayed.The appeals court ruling revived a 2003 verdict in Madison County that found Philip Morris broke Illinois law by marketing "light" and "low tar" cigarettes as safer than other cigarettes.

The lawsuit was the nation's first to accuse a tobacco company of consumer fraud.The Illinois Supreme Court later threw out that verdict, saying the Federal Trade Commission allowed companies to characterize or label their cigarettes as "light" and "low tar."

It said Philip Morris could not be held liable under state law even if the terms were misleading or false.

The US Supreme Court let that ruling stand in late 2006. But in a 5-4 decision in December 2008, the nation's high court ruled in favor of three Maine residents who said smokers should be able to use state consumer protection laws to sue cigarette makers for promoting "light" and "low tar" brands.

Stephen Tillery, the attorney behind the Illinois class-action lawsuit, said that decision counted as new evidence and could be applied to reinstate his case. An Illinois appellate court agreed.

Subsequent appeals led to Tuesday's reinstatement of the verdict. The class-action lawsuit was filed in 2000 on behalf of perhaps more than one million people who bought "light" cigarettes in Illinois.

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