Reynolds Rejected by Court on $20 Million Smoker Award

The U.S. Supreme Court let stand a $20 million award against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and a second cigarette maker, rebuffing the tobacco industry’s latest effort to derail thousands of Florida suits.

The justices today refused to hear a joint appeal from R.J. Reynolds and Vector Group Ltd. (VGR)’s Liggett unit. A jury said the two companies were responsible for the death of Janie Mae Clay, who smoked for 40 years and died in 2003 of lung disease.

Tobacco companies are seeking to limit the effect of a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision, which said a jury’s factual findings against the industry in a class-action case could serve as the starting point for individual suits. Cigarette makers say Florida trial judges are applying the findings too broadly, depriving the companies of their right to defend themselves.

About 8,000 plaintiffs have cases pending in Florida courts, Reynolds and Liggett said in their appeals. About 65 of those cases have gone to trial, with total awards surpassing $300 million.

The Supreme Court rejected a group of company appeals raising similar arguments in March.

R.J. Reynolds, the second largest U.S. tobacco company, is a unit of Reynolds American Inc. (RAI)

The case acted on today is R.J. Reynolds v. Clay, 12-272.

To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Stohr in Washington at gstohr@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net

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