Tobacco shares were pounded at midday after the multibillion-dollar Engle class action was put back into play by Florida's highest court.
The verdict, with its $145 billion of punitive damages, was thrown out last year by a state appellate court that ruled the case was superceded by a larger settlement in which Florida was taking part. That decision was appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, which Wednesday said it had "accepted jurisdiction" in deciding whether the dismissal was appropriate.
Shares of the country's biggest cigarette company,
tanked on the news, as investors reconsidered their recent faith in its Phillip Morris tobacco unit. The stock was down $4.56, or 8.5%, to $48.84 -- making up 35 points of the
's recent 130-point plunge. The stock was by far the worst performing component of the Dow 30.
Other tobacco-related stocks feeling pressure included
( RJR), down $3.64, or 5.9%, to $57.91, and
( LTR), down $1.33, or 2.3%, to $55.63.
The Florida Supreme Court will hear opening arguments in the case this October. A Florida doctor brought the suit in the mid-1990s, claiming that cigarette smoking was responsible for various illnesses. A jury ruled in his favor four years ago and set the $145 billion punitive award to a class that included sick Florida smokers.