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The mammoth settlement tobacco companies reached with states four years ago might spare


(MO) - Get Altria Group Inc Report

the stiff punitive damages it faces in Illinois, at least temporarily.

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According to wire reports, a state judge in Illinois has temporarily blocked the $3 billion punitive penalty levied on the company's Philip Morris USA unit by a judge last month. Cook County Circuit Court Judge James Henry cited the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between cigarette makers and 45 states, saying the states gave up their right to future punitive damages when they agreed to the settlement.

Henry issued a 10-day injunction blocking the damages. Altria still faces about $7 billion of compensatory damages in the ruling, which came after a judge determined it misrepresented the harmfulness of "light" cigarettes, as well as a $12 billion bond it would need to appeal the verdict.

Altria's beaten-down shares were recently up almost 6% to $30.70.