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Big Tobacco Not Liable|for Unpaid Medical Bills

ST. LOUIS (CN) - Tobacco companies do not have to reimburse hospitals for the cost of treating smokers, a Missouri jury ruled.

Verdict forms in the nationally watched case were signed by nine of 12 jurors, which is the minimum required by state law for a civil case. The decision came on the seventh day of deliberations in the complicated case.

In 1998 a group of 29 plaintiffs representing 37 health institutions sued six tobacco companies for $455 million plus punitive damages. They claimed that the tobacco companies knowingly delivered an unreasonably dangerous product that created a burden on health care providers with costs of treating smoking-related patients who had no insurance and who did not pay their bills.

The defendants argued that the nonpaying patients represented just a tiny fraction of the hospitals' business and noted that cigarettes were legal to make and sell and were regulated by the federal government.

Though the trial in St. Louis City Circuit Court was expected to last more than six months, it ended in half that time. It was the only case of some 160 similar complaints filed around the country to make it to trial.

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