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A state appeals court upheld a $500,000 award to a flight attendant who blamed secondhand smoke on airliners for her bronchitis and sinus trouble — a decision Wednesday that could clear the way for damage trials on up to 3,000 similar claims. The ruling for former TWA attendant Lynn French was a test case interpreting a $349 million settlement reached in 1997 between the tobacco industry and nonsmoking attendants. The flight attendants blamed their illnesses on smoke in the cabin before smoking was banned on domestic flights in 1990. “The court agreed with us, and we’re happy with it,” said Marvin Weinstein, French’s attorney. “Based on this, I think there are a lot more they’re going to be paying.” After the tobacco industry agreed to settle, a system of mini-trials was set up for each flight attendant to decide whether he or she deserved compensatory damages. Under the ground rules, each jury was to presume that secondhand smoke causes several diseases; the attendants had to prove only that they suffered from one of those diseases and that their exposure to smoke occurred on the job. The cigarette makers appealed, arguing that each jury should be required to determine whether secondhand smoke can cause disease. But a three-judge panel of Florida’s 3rd District Court of Appeal said Wednesday that that question had already been answered in the settlement. Flights attendants had put their claims for compensatory damages on hold while waiting for the ruling. “This is the big fight. This is the big decision,” said attorney Joel Perwin, representing the attendants. “We’ve certainly got light at the end of the tunnel.” The nation’s biggest cigarette makers have not decided whether to ask the full court to review the ruling, said John Sorrells, spokesman for Altria Corporate Services Inc. Altria is the parent of Philip Morris. “It’s still our position that there’s no language in the settlement agreement that would support the appellate court’s conclusion about issues that remain to be tried in these cases,” Sorrells said. Six attendants’ claims for compensatory damages have gone to juries. The tobacco industry won four verdicts, and one of them is awaiting retrial. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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