WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday sided with Philip Morris USA, refusing to disturb a court ruling that threw out a $10.1 billion verdict over the company's "light" cigarettes.
The court issued its order without comment.
Last year, the Illinois Supreme Court threw out the massive fraud judgment against Philip Morris, a unit of the Altria Group Inc. (MO), in a class-action lawsuit involving "light" cigarettes. Because the Federal Trade Commission allowed companies to characterize their cigarettes as "light" and "low tar," Philip Morris could not be held liable under state law even if the terms it used could be found false or misleading, the state court said.
The case involved 1.1 million people who bought "light" cigarettes in Illinois. They claimed Philip Morris knew when it introduced such cigarettes in 1971 that they were no healthier than regular cigarettes, but hid that information and the fact that light cigarettes actually had a more toxic form of tar.
An Illinois judge ruled in favor of the smokers in March 2003, saying the company misled customers into believing they were buying a less harmful cigarette.
A separate case involving Philip Morris is pending before the Supreme Court. Justices are considering whether to allow a $79.5 million punitive damages award to the widow of a longtime smoker from Oregon.