Altria Says West Virginia Tobacco Case Ends in Mistrial

A trial of more than 600 claims against Altria Group Inc. (MO)’s Philip Morris unit, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Lorillard Inc. (LO) ended in a mistrial, according to an Altria spokesman.

The first part of a two-phase trial of wrongful-death and personal-injury claims by smokers and their families in state court in Wheeling, West Virginia, ended today, less than two weeks after jurors began hearing evidence.

“We do believe that a mistrial was appropriate though, given that we believe the court made numerous legal errors in this case,” Steve Callahan, a spokesman for Richmond, Virginia- based Altria, said in an e-mail today. He didn’t say why the mistrial had been declared.

The case, which was originally consolidated for trial in 2000, was moved to Wheeling from Charleston, West Virginia, after Circuit Judge Arthur Recht was unable to find enough jurors qualified to hear the case there.

The jurors were to have determined questions related to the companies’ liability, including whether they marketed defective products. If the panel returned a verdict for the smokers, it would have been asked to determine whether the defendants engaged in conduct that would support an award of punitive damages.

The case is In Re Tobacco Litigation (Individual Personal Injury Cases), 00-C-5000, West Virginia Circuit Court, Ohio County (Wheeling).

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