Page last updated at 23:34 GMT, Wednesday, 18 February 2009

US chain smoker's widow gets $8m

Cigarette stub
The award could blaze a legal trail for 8,000 similar cases in Florida

A US jury has ordered tobacco giant Philip Morris to pay $8m (5.6m) to the widow of a lifelong smoker who died of lung disease.

The jury in Florida decided in favour of Elaine Hess, whose husband Stuart died of lung cancer in 1997 at age 55. He had smoked for 40 years.

The ruling could blaze a legal trail for 8,000 similar cases in Florida.

Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris, called the case "profoundly flawed" and said it would appeal.

The court ordered Philip Morris to pay $3m in compensatory damages and $5m in punitive damages, although Mrs Hess had sought $130m (91m).

Legal precedent

Alex Alvarez, an lawyers for Mrs Hess, said he felt vindicated by the award.

"She's a 110lb (50kg) elementary school teacher and she went up against Philip Morris, one of the most powerful companies in the world, and won," Mr Alvarez told Reuters news agency.

The Hess case was the first to go to trial since the Florida Supreme Court in 2006 voided a $145bn class-action jury award, which was by far the highest punitive damage award in US history.

The court said each smoker's case had to be decided individually, but let stand the jury's findings that tobacco companies knowingly sold dangerous products and hid risks from the public.

The jury in the Hess case previously found that he was hopelessly addicted to smoking, even as Philip Morris attorneys pointed to evidence he was capable of quitting.

The case has been closely watched by the tobacco industry and by the thousands of other Florida smokers and survivors who have sued.

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