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R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris Win Federal Jury Trial in Florida

Altria Group Inc.’s Philip Morris USA and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. won a defense verdict in a wrongful-death case filed by the widow of a smoker who died of lung cancer, Altria said.

A jury in federal court in Jacksonville, Florida, returned the verdict for the companies yesterday on the first day of deliberations, Altria said in a statement. The trial was the first federal trial of thousands of so-called “Engle” tobacco injury claims.

Virginia Gollihue claimed her husband, Manuel Gollihue, died from lung cancer at age 53 after smoking at least two packs a day of the defendants’ cigarettes for almost 38 years. His illness and death were caused by his addiction to nicotine, Virginia Gollihue claimed.

Gollihue’s suit was the first individual claim by a smoker tried in a Florida federal court after the state’s supreme court in 2006 threw out a $145 billion punitive-damage verdict against the industry and ended a class action filed on behalf of Florida smokers.

The ruling, which permitted smokers in the class to sue individually, is known as the “Engle” decision, after Howard Engle, the lead plaintiff in the case.

So far, smokers have won 40 of the 58 Engle verdicts in state court trials, according to Edward L. Sweda Jr., senior attorney for the Tobacco Products Liability Project, which tracks the suits. Trials in federal court have been delayed by pretrial appeals.

47 Minutes

As of Feb. 13, Philip Morris faced 3,306 Engle cases in Florida state courts and 3,238 in federal courts, according to an Altria Securities and Exchange Commission filing yesterday. Reynolds is a defendant in 6,561 cases in state and federal courts combined, it said in an SEC filing Feb. 15.

The jury deliberated for 47 minutes before delivering its verdict, according to Stephanie Parker, a partner with the Jones Day law firm who represented Reynolds in the trial.

In a separate case yesterday, a jury in Oregon state court issued a $25 million verdict against Philip Morris in a lawsuit by the family of a woman who smoked low-tar cigarettes and died of lung cancer in 1999, said Chuck Tauman, the family’s attorney.

Philip Morris, based in Richmond, Virginia, is the biggest U.S. cigarette maker. R.J. Reynolds, a unit of Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based Reynolds American Inc., is number two.

The case is Gollihue v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 09-CV-10530, U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida (Jacksonville).

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