Strike Two for Philip Morris, and This Time for $81 Million

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For the second time in about a month, Philip Morris was socked with a big jury verdict on Tuesday when an Oregon jury in Portland awarded a record $81 million to the family of a man who died of lung cancer after smoking Marlboros for four decades. The decision comes on top of the $51.5 million awarded against the company in February to a smoker with inoperable lung cancer. "This is not good news for tobacco," says TIME senior writer Adam Cohen. "The Oregon case is the kind of case that anyone could have brought." And that fact, perhaps more than the amount of the award (which is expected to be appealed), is the major worry of tobacco companies these days.

The reality is that tobacco litigation has settled down into a kind of stubborn trench warfare. Sometimes plaintiffs win, and sometimes the companies win, as they did earlier this month in Akron, Ohio, when a federal jury decided that several tobacco giants did not have to repay dozens of union health plans in the state for smoking-related illnesses.

"This has become a volatile area of the law," says Cohen. "Reasonable minds differ because of the complexity of the issues, and the result is a lot of indecision and contradictory outcomes." Certainty, however, is what the tobacco industry has always sought: initially by successfully squelching or winning every smoking lawsuit for decades, and lately by trying to strike a nationwide deal that included strict limits on lawsuits. Congress did not buy the nationwide deal, and the recent arrangement with 46 state attorneys general does not cover individual lawsuits. That leaves tobacco companies where they don't want to be: exposed.