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Big Tobacco Faces Ohio Trial

New York-based Philip Morris Cos. Inc. and three other U.S. tobacco companies will be in an Ohio courtroom defending themselves from claims that they should have to pay for the lung cancer death of a longtime smoker.

David Tompkin sued the cigarette makers in 1994, claiming his smoking between 1950 and 1965 caused the lung cancer he was diagnosed with in 1992. Tompkin died in 1996 at 61, according to Bloomberg News.

The case was originally thrown out on summary judgment in 1998 by Dowd, who said Tompkin's claim was barred under Ohio's Products Liability Act. A federal appeals court found Ohio's law still allows breach of implied warranty claims, one of the theories being pressed by Tompkin. The case was remanded to Dowd for trial, the report said.

Tompkin's family is expected to claim the company made a defective product and failed to warn of the health risks of smoking.

Philip Morris will claim that the health risks of smoking are well known and that Tompkin assumed that risk by smoking, said John Sorrells, a Philip Morris spokesman. In addition, in his work as a brick mason, Tompkin encountered asbestos, which may have contributed to his lung cancer, Sorrells said.

In addition to Philip Morris, other defendants include a unit of British American Tobacco Plc, Lorillard Tobacco Co., a unit of Loews Corp., and Vector Group Ltd.'s Liggett Group Inc.

In 1998, in an effort to curb its litigation risks, the tobacco industry reached settlements with the states totaling $246 billion. Since the 1998 settlement with the states, the companies have prevailed in most trials though they lost several large verdicts on the West Coast.

In August, a Los Angeles judge cut a jury's award against Philip Morris to $100 million from $3 billion. The company was found liable for fraud and misrepresentation for inducing Richard Boeken to smoke without concern for his health. Philip Morris said it would appeal the verdict, Bloomberg News reported.

The award confirmed the West Coast as unfriendly territory for tobacco companies fighting sick smokers' claims. Two earlier cases in California and one in Oregon produced awards between $21.7 million and $81 million. They are being appealed.

A Miami jury also told the tobacco companies last year to pay $145 billion to a class of Florida smokers. Cigarette makers say they will appeal that decision, saying it may bankrupt the industry if it's upheld.

Jury selection in the case began yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio in Akron.
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