Jurors found cigarette makers produced a defective product that causes emphysema, lung cancer and other illnesses.
The defendants were the nation's five biggest cigarette makers and two industry groups: Philip Morris Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., Lorillard Tobacco Co., Liggett Group Inc., the Council for Tobacco Research and the Tobacco Institute.
Meanwhile, a Louisiana state jury said Friday that there was not enough proof to blame tobacco companies R.J. Reynolds Co. and Brown & Williamson Corp. for the ailments that plagued lifelong smoker Robert Gilboy until his death in 1993.
R.J. Reynolds hailed the verdict as a significant victory that "confirms that juries are still able to apply common sense and reasonable judgment regarding tobacco lawsuits."
In the past, cigarette makers have proven they can absorb big buck losses, and as CBS News Correspondent Anthony Mason reports, they likely will again.
When cigarette companies agreed to pay the states nearly $250 billion to cover smoking-related health care costs last year, the tobacco industry raised prices about 45 cents a pack. A 25 percent price hike, it's apparent the customer is paying for that award.
Those rising prices may have contributed to the two percent drop in U.S. cigarette sales last year, though in contrast, the higher-priced market abroad is growing.
A pack of cigarettes averages $2.50 in the U.S., while in most of Europe they're somewhere between $3.50 and $5.50. People have less money in their pockets over there than they do in the U.S., so cigarette makers may raise their prices here again if the courts make them pay.
The decision will almost certainly pave the way for similar class action lawsuits in other states - there are up to a half-million other members of the class-action suit. CBS News Correspondent Bernard Goldberg. reports that is precisely what the cigarette companies fear the most, because that could cost them untold billions more.
Wake Forest University law professor David Logan says to avoid having to pay out such large sums of money, "one option that looks more attractive, now more than ever, is to try to go back to Congress and seek a global settlement," which would encompass all the legislation - including state claims, class action claims and foreign government claims - in one package "so they can find out what their exposure is and maybe stay in business."
The national settlement reached with the industry last year bars states from suing to recoup the costs of treating sick smokers, but it does not prohibit lawsuits by individuals such as this one.
The class-action lawsuit was filed in 1994 on behalf of as many as 500,000 sick Flrida smokers. Plaintiffs and family members openly wept and hugged each other as the verdict was read.
The industry claimed that there's no scientific proof that smoking causes any illness and that the public is well aware that smoking is risky.
Jurors heard eight months of testimony and were exposed to thousands of documents from decades of tobacco litigation.
U.S. juries have awarded damages in smoking liability cases only five times: twice in Florida and once each in New Jersey, Oregon and California. The Florida and New Jersey verdicts were overturned on appeal.