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Jury Deadlocks in Smoker Suit

From Reuters

A Los Angeles jury said Wednesday that it had reached some verdicts but had deadlocked over several allegations in the case of a cancer-stricken ex-smoker who sued Philip Morris USA, claiming that the cigarette maker should take responsibility for his illness.

Court officials said the panel notified Superior Court Judge Victoria Chaney of its difficulties in concluding deliberations in the case brought by Fredric Reller, who has inoperable lung cancer. The judge ordered the jury to try again to reach verdicts in all causes of action in the lawsuit, a court spokesman said. The jury will resume deliberations today.

The case has been closely watched because Reller’s attorney, Michael Piuze, has won two record punitive damages verdicts against Philip Morris USA, a unit of New York-based Altria Group Inc. Both awards -- $3 billion awarded to Richard Boeken in 2001 and $28 billion to Betty Bullock last year -- were reduced by judges who found them excessive in light of smaller compensatory damages awarded in both cases. Both awards have been appealed.

The Reller lawsuit is the first tobacco case to be tried in California since rulings by both the state’s and the nation’s high courts that punitive damage awards should correspond to actual losses.

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