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The checks are in the mail to the 20,521 Marlboro Lights smokers who are splitting $18 million paid to settle a lawsuit, a Friday court order states.

Just more than 13,000 claimants are being paid 10 cents to 25 cents for every pack of Marlboro Lights or Ultra-Lights they reported purchasing in Arkansas from when the cigarettes were introduced in 1971 through 2010, when federal regulators forced manufacturers to drop the light description.

Another 7,486 claimants who submitted faulty applications will receive $100 each as part of the payment plan approved by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox last month.

The money is from a $45 million settlement by cigarette maker Philip Morris USA to end a 2003 class-action lawsuit filed in Little Rock. The suit claimed Arkansas consumers were deliberately misled into thinking the Lights brands were safer than traditional cigarettes.

The manufacturer, a subsidiary of Altria Group, denied wrongdoing. The company had successfully fended off all but one such lawsuit across the country before settling the Arkansas suit, which was the last one the company had to resolve.

The Arkansas case marks the only time Philip Morris has paid a settlement.

Federal regulators barred all cigarette manufacturers in 2010 from describing their products as "light," and the brands have been renamed Marlboro Silver and Marlboro Gold.

In an order on Friday, Fox states that the payment checks have been sent out.

The order approves a $7.5 million payment to the 11 law firms whose attorneys shepherded the litigation through the courts over 13 years -- first among them, the Thrash Law Firm of Little Rock.

The judge has also approved an additional $57,500 for the lawyers' expenses. The attorneys already have received $11.9 million in legal fees and expenses.

In Friday's order, Fox ordered payments of $26,342 to attorney Allison Allred and $37,000 to accountant Angie Hopkins, who are administering the claim process for the court. They've already received $73,520 for their work.

The application process began in September with a nationwide advertising campaign designed to alert potential plaintiffs to the existence of the settlement and how they could claim a share.

Of the 26,001 applications received over the three-month claim submission period, 13,035 were deemed valid and complete by the court and will divide the bulk of the award money, $17.3 million, which averages out to about $1,325 per claim.

There were 7,486 flawed applications submitted, and each of those claimants will be paid $100.

By comparison, the only successful litigation against the tobacco company, which is on appeal, won $25 plus interest, about $77 total, for each of that case's nearly 200,000 plaintiffs.

Of those flawed claims, about 99 percent of the applicants either claimed to have been purchasing cigarettes illegally while underage or reported purchasing more than five packs per day for sustained periods.

According to information provided by the court, about 13 percent of the underage claimants reported that they had been buying cigarettes at least since the age of 12.

One applicant reported being born in 2015 and purchasing cigarettes for 40 years. Four other applicants similarly reported being born in 2015 but claimed to have been buying cigarettes for 39 years.

Metro on 04/15/2017

Print Headline: Court says tobacco suit checks in mail

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