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Florida Jury Awards $13M in Compensatory Damages to Three Long- Time Smokers

Aired April 7, 2000 - 2:33 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Let's check in now in Miami. CNN producer Adam Reiss, who has the latest for us on the penalty being decided by this jury against these five cigarettes companies -- Adam.

ADAM REISS, CNN PRODUCER: Lou, it is really a significant defeat for big tobacco. The Florida jury of four men and two women deliberated for 17 hours over three days before awarding compensatory damages of almost $13 million to three long-time smokers, one who died last year at age 53. The three are part of a class-action lawsuit that includes as many as half a million Florida smokers.

Now, billions of dollars are at stake as the jury begins to consider punitive damage against the nation's five biggest cigarette makers. Last July, you will remember, this jury found the tobacco companies liable for making defective products and lying about more than a dozen diseases caused by cigarettes.

Now, tobacco lawyers insist smokers should have known the dangers. A major concern now for tobacco companies is the possibility that they would have to post a bond that is 120 percent of the value of awarded damages, and that could be in billions of dollars.

So now tobacco companies are scrambling to convince Florida lawmakers here to protect them, and put a cap on class-action lawsuits that could bankrupt them -- Lou.

WATERS: All right, CNN producer Adam Reiss down in Florida. We will have more on this story as soon as we know more, $13 million in damages awarded in this class-action suit against the cigarette companies. Punitive damage now being considered by the jury.

It should be noted that around the country, juries have awarded damages to individual smokers only six times, and the tobacco industry has yet to pay a dollar in any smoker's case.

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