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MIAMI (AP) — A Florida appeals court Wednesday threw out a record-shattering $145 billion verdict won by thousands of Florida smokers against the tobacco industry, saying the case should not have been tried as a class-action lawsuit.

The 3rd District Court of Appeals said the smokers did not have enough in common to pursue a single lawsuit against the nation's five biggest cigarette makers.

By eliminating class-action status, the three-judge panel discarded the damages awarded by a Miami-Dade County jury in 2000 after a two-year trial.

Tobacco stocks jumped on the news.

"This decision clearly shows we were right when we said it was inappropriate for this case to be pursued as a class-action," said Mark Smith, a spokesman for Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., whose cigarette brands include Kool and Lucky Strike.

Ronald Milstein, vice president and general counsel of Lorillard Tobacco, the maker of Kent and Newport cigarettes, said: "We feel that we've been completely vindicated in every respect." The other defendants were Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and the Liggett Group.

Even with tobacco's victory, Philip Morris, Lorillard and Liggett are out $710 million. After the trial, the three companies agreed to pay that nonrefundable amount to keep Florida smokers from challenging the constitutionality of a new state law that protects companies from having to post ruinous amounts in bond when they appeal verdicts.

Margaret Amodeo, whose husband, Frank, was awarded $5.8 million in compensatory damages by the jury for his throat cancer, said the couple were "very disappointed." The appeals court threw out the individual awards as well.

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Attorneys Stanley and Susan Rosenblatt, who represented the smokers, were out of town and could not be reached for comment.

The jury decided that cigarettes are deadly, addictive and defective because they make people sick when used as directed. It set punitive damages for an estimated 300,000 to 700,000 smokers, and also awarded compensatory damages to three people with cancer who served as representatives of the group.

Copyright © 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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