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Florida Court Overturns 2009 Verdict In Suit Against Philip Morris USA

DOW JONES NEWSWIRES A Florida appellate court overturned a 2009 verdict against Altria Group Inc.'s (MO) Philip Morris USA unit that had awarded just under $2 million to a Florida man who said his 73-year-old wife died of lung cancer. The appellate court found that the trial court erroneously refused to hold that a statute of limitations barred the claim. The lawsuit by Leon Barbanell drew on findings from the 1994 Engle class-action case. The Florida Supreme Court decertified the Engle class action status in 2006 but allowed former class action members to file individual suits and rely on general findings. At the time, the plaintiff law firm acknowledged the jury found Shirley Barbanell mostly responsible for her death but said the cigarette maker was more than a third responsible and awarded damages. "This is an important decision that could impact many of the claims being brought in the Engle cases in Florida," said Murray Garnick, Altria client services senior vice president and associate general counsel. ""We believe this ruling will bar other Engle progeny claims." Garnick also said it was important that the court reaffirmed the four-year statute of limitations begins to run on the smoker when he knew or should have known that he was injured by smoking cigarettes. Recently Philip Morris USA said it had won or received mistrials in approximately two-thirds of its Engle cases to go to trial since the beginning of 2011. Altria Group shares were up 8 cents at $29.70 in recent trading. The stock has risen 20% in the past year. -By Tess Stynes, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2481; Tess.Stynes@dowjones.com

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