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Philip Morris Suffers Setback

NEW YORK -- Philip Morris Cos. suffered its fifth consecutive courtroom loss on the West Coast when a jury in Portland, Ore., ordered the nation's largest tobacco company to pay nearly $150.2 million in damages in the case of a woman who died of lung cancer after smoking low-tar cigarettes.

The 12-member state-court jury said that Philip Morris had made false claims that "light" cigarettes were safer than regular smokes. The jury also found that the company's Merit cigarettes, which the woman, Michelle Schwarz, smoked for decades before her 1999 death, were "defective and unreasonably dangerous," according to the New York Times.

Philip Morris said it would appeal "very promptly" if the judge doesn't overturn the verdict.

The jurors assessed damages of $168,514.22 as compensation for the harm Mrs. Schwarz suffered from smoking. They also levied a punitive award of $150 million. Under Oregon law, 60 percent of punitive damages are paid to a state fund for crime victims. The rest goes to plaintiffs and their lawyers.

The verdict was the second straight loss for Philip Morris in Oregon. In 1999, a jury in the same Portland courthouse where the Schwarz case was tried hit the company with an $80.3-million verdict. A judge later reduced the award to $30.3 million. That case is on appeal.

The Schwarz verdict also follows three defeats for Philip Morris in California. The losses are a significant -- and potentially costly -- exception to cigarette makers' generally winning litigation record elsewhere.
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