Tobacco verdict decimated, companies plan another appeal

John O'Brien Feb. 8, 2007, 4:20pm

NEW ORLEANS - Tobacco companies are planning an appeal even though a Louisiana appeals court on Wednesday cut a huge percentage out of a class action jury award.

The $591 million award was sliced by more than half by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, and pretrial interest on the award, which totaled about $400 million was completely wiped out.

Effectively, the $1 billion award was changed to less than $300 million.

That's not good enough for R.J. Reynolds, though, which claims the plaintiffs never should have been given class certification and says it will appeal to the state's Supreme Court.

"We are certainly pleased with that, but we remain convinced that the class should be decertified and the case completely reversed," said Jeff Raborn, senior counsel for R.J. Reynolds.

In 2004, a lower court determined that R.J. Reynolds, Lorillard, Philip Morris USA and Brown & Williamson conspired for more than 50 years to hide the effects of smoking and should pay to help smokers stop. They were to spend $591 million on nicotine patches, telephone hot lines, advertising and other programs.

Any Louisiana resident who started smoking before the mid-1990s was entitled to free smoking cessation help.

The Wednesday ruling limited the class, which originally contained 500,000 plaintiffs, to individuals who started smoking before 1988. Also, it reduced the amount of money the companies have to spend on smoking cessation programs was reduced to $279 million.

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