Bill Would Shield Tobacco Cos.
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - State lawmakers have passed a bill protecting companies' assets in Virginia, a measure that would shield tobacco giants such as Philip Morris from a potential multibillion dollar judgment in a Florida lawsuit filed by ailing smokers.
The legislation, which Gov. Jim Gilmore is expected to sign, caps bonds required to appeal punitive damages judgments at $25 million.
Philip Morris, which is based in New York but operates the world's largest cigarette plant in Richmond, is among five tobacco companies in a class-action lawsuit in Florida.
All could face billions of dollars in damages if they lose, forcing the companies to post billions of dollars in cash or assets as bond while the judgment is appealed.
Estimates within the industry have placed the possible punitive damages from the lawsuit brought on behalf of Florida smokers as high as $300 billion.
The measure passed the House of Delegates 98-0 and the Senate 33-6 on Friday.
Gilmore persuaded Del. Eric Cantor, a fellow Republican, to introduce the bill last month. The bill never mentions Philip Morris or the word ``tobacco,'' and Cantor said Philip Morris was never mentioned to him in regard to the bill.
The link to Philip Morris was drawn in a story published by The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk.
``I am not characterizing it as a Philip Morris bill,'' Cantor said. ``This allows for a defendant in a lawsuit to avail itself fully to the appeals process. No entity in the United States could withstand a $300 billion appeal bond.''