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Tobacco Award May Prompt More Lawsuits

Philip Morris stock fell 2.96 percent, or $1.48, to $48.52 in trading Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc. dropped 5.42 percent, or $3.19, to $55.69 and British American Tobacco PLC fell 1.7 percent, or 27 cents, to $15.02.

Stock market was reacting to a $3 billion punitive damages jury award to a longtime smoker with lung cancer because this verdict could trigger a flood of lawsuits against tobacco companies. The verdict was the largest ever in an individual lawsuit against a tobacco company.

Michael Piuze, attorney for the plaintiff Richard Boeken in the trial, told ABC's "Good Morning America" Thursday that the tobacco companies "day of reckoning is here" and that "It's going to happen again. They should get used to it."

A Los Angeles Superior Court jury awarded $3 billion in punitive damages and $5.5 million in compensatory damages to the 56-year-old California resident who had smoked for 40 years, and who might have as little as six to 12 months to live.

The former oil and securities dealer claimed he was the victim of an industry campaign that portrayed smoking as "cool" but concealed its dangers. Lawyers said jurors have been more likely to vote against tobacco companies if they live in urban areas.

Los Angeles County appears to be particularly fertile ground for big-money awards, said Harrison. Wednesday's verdict is the largest of 2001, and the biggest awards in 2000 and 1999 also came out of the same county.

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