Plaintiffs in judgement fight against tobacco giant

Attorneys representing one million smokers in a class-action lawsuit against Philip Morris USA are urging the Illinois Supreme Court to force the company to pay the $10,1-billion judgement in the case.

Thirty health and consumer groups—including the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association and Public Citizen—signed onto court briefs urging the justices to uphold a March 2003 trial court decision that ordered the cigarette-maker to pay the money for misleading smokers into thinking light cigarettes were less harmful than regular ones, plaintiff attorney George Zelcs said.

Copies of the briefs to be filed with the state’s high court by midnight on Monday were not available earlier in the day, Zelcs said.

The company appealed the judgment in December and also has been successful in getting a $12-billion court-ordered appeal bond, which covered the judgement plus interests and court costs, cut nearly in half.

John Sorrells, a spokesman for Philip Morris corporate parent, Altria Group Inc., said it is no surprise that health and consumer groups filed amicus briefs for the plaintiffs in their response to the company’s appeal.

“But the bottom line is we’re asking the Illinois Supreme Court to apply the law and we’re confident they’ll do so,” he said.

The company has argued it never meant for customers to think light cigarettes carried fewer toxins than regular brands, but merely offered smokers a milder taste.

“The ... case is not a personal-injury action filed by a smoker claiming he or she didn’t know of the dangers of tobacco,” said Joel Affrick, chief executive of the American Lung Association of Metropolitan Chicago, at a news conference called Monday by the plaintiffs’ attorneys. “This was a hard-fought suit over bedrock principals of fairness to consumers.”—Sapa

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