The ruling, in what is one of the last remaining personal injury class-action cases against tobacco companies, is a crushing blow to plaintiffs’ lawyers, who have pushed for large class-action cases with the potential for multibillion-dollar verdicts.
The six-judge Florida court stated that smokers’ cases “are highly individualized” and “do not lend themselves to class-action treatment.”
Investors applauded the decision, which sharply reduces the possibility of large, bank-breaking awards in tobacco cases. Shares of the two largest companies named in the suit, Altria Group, the parent of Phillip Morris, and Reynolds American, which owns R. J. Reynolds, were up sharply. Altria closed up $4.43, or 6 percent, at $77.76, and Reynolds American closed up $4.59, or 4 percent, at $118.95.
The ruling is perhaps most important for Altria, which is preparing to spin off its Kraft Foods unit. The company has said that the long-running lawsuit, originally led by a Miami Beach pediatrician, Howard A. Engle, who has emphysema, was one of the major litigation hurdles the company needed to clear before it could restructure.
Dawn Schneider, an Altria spokeswoman, said the company would not comment on when a breakup would take place.
Altria consists of Philip Morris USA, Philip Morris International and Kraft Foods, which is 86 percent owned by Altria.
Yesterday’s ruling follows another industry-friendly outcome in a large case in Illinois. In December, the Supreme Court of Illinois threw out a $10 billion judgment against Philip Morris USA in a class-action consumer fraud suit that had accused the company of deceiving smokers by marketing its “light” cigarettes as having lower levels of tar and nicotine.