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Altria Group Tentatively Wins False Ad Claims Trial

Altria Group Inc.’s Philip Morris USA unit was granted a tentative victory in a California class-action trial over claims smokers were misled about the health risks of Marlboro Lights.

California Superior Court Judge Ronald Prager in San Diego said in a proposed decision yesterday that the plaintiffs failed to provide a reliable measure of restitution and that a court order forcing Philip Morris to change its labeling of light cigarettes would be redundant since the contested wording is no longer used on cigarette packs.

“Plaintiffs’ claim of restitution rests exclusively on the validity of their conjoint analysis survey,” the judge said. “But the survey does not attempt to measure restitution as defined by California law and in any event is fatally flawed, as amply demonstrated by nonsensical results and contradictory real world data.”

Mark Robinson, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, had asked for as much as $543.6 million in restitution on behalf of California smokers of Philip Morris’s light cigarettes from June of 1993 to April 2001. The case, which dates back to 1997, was decided without a jury and Philip Morris was the only defendant.

Robinson didn’t immediately return a call for comment on the judge’s proposed decision.

Both sides were given 15 days to object to the order before it become final.

The case is In re Tobacco Cases II, JCCP 4042, California Superior Court, San Diego County (San Diego).

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