Philip Morris Trial Underway

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Philip Morris Trial Underway

LOS ANGELES -- The trial of a California smoker's suit against Philip Morris that began today is being closed watched to see if a recent ruling by the state's highest court will help turn the tide in a stream of California jury verdicts that have gone against tobacco firms.

The California Supreme Court, in a pair of Aug. 5 rulings, reinstated two tobacco cases that had been dismissed before trial. In the process, the court declared that cigarette makers cannot be held liable for statements or acts during a 10-year period when lawsuits against them were banned in California.

The case currently being heart in Los Angeles Superior Court was brought by Betty Bullock, who started smoking in the 1950s at the age of 17 and was diagnosed with cancer in February 2001. Bullock, whose favorite brands were Marlboros and Benson & Hedges, has accused Philip Morris of negligence, fraud and making a defective product, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Philip Morris has denied the claims. "We believe the evidence will show that nothing Philip Morris did caused her to start or continue smoking," Maurice Leiter, a lawyer for Philip Morris, told The Times.

The Bullock case will be the first tried in California under ground rules recently set by the state Supreme Court. As a result, it is being watched closely by Wall Street and legal analysts as a test of the industry's ability to defend itself successfully in what probably is the country's most anti-smoking state, the report said. Testimony is expected to last six weeks.