Virginia panel oks bill to shield Philip Morris assets
RICHMOND, Va., March 1 (Reuters) - A Virginia legislative committee unanimously approved a bill on Wednesday that would protect the assets of tobacco giant Philip Morris Cos. Inc. (NYSE:MO - news) against a potentially financially crippling judgment that
The state Senate's Courts of Justice committee adopted a bill that breezed unopposed through the state House and was backed by the governor setting a $25 million cap on the bond a company would have to post while appealing a court judgment.
``We need to be sensitive to our major corporations,'' said Senate floor leader Thomas Norment, a Williamsburg Republican, referring to Philip Morris, the world's largest tobacco company which employs about 7,000 people in Virginia.
A Miami jury last year found that tobacco giant Philip Morris and the other major tobacco companies conspired to mislead Americans about the harmful effects of smoking, and that same jury could award sick smokers punitive damages that some tobacco lawyers estimate could be as high as $300 billion.
By law, the tobacco companies would have to post a bond in the amount of the judgment plus 10 percent while appealing the case.
The Virginia bill, which was opposed by anti-smoking groups, was expected to reach the Senate floor on Friday or Monday, and would go into effect on July 1.
The Senate committee opted not to tack on an amendment that would have made the bill effective immediately upon the governor's signature, meaning that the bond cap would be nullified if the jury returns a verdict before July 1.