updated 8/9/2006 7:16:13 AM ET 2006-08-09T11:16:13

Mary Farnan started smoking at age 10, sneaking down to the fishing camps in this Gulf Coast town to buy 35-cent packs. In the 40 years since then, what once cost so little has taken a lot: parts of both her lungs, some ribs, a piece of her brain and with it her memory, and her job as a nurse. Doctors were once so sure it would take her life that they gave her three months to live.

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But Farnan, one of three plaintiffs who took the spotlight in the historic class-action lawsuit against Big Tobacco, is still around. She considers herself lucky — she was the only one still alive to receive an award after the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday threw out the $145 billion judgment.

Despite invalidating the ruling, a majority of the state's high court reinstated a $2.85 million award to Farnan that had been tossed out on appeal.

The court also approved $4 million for Angie Della Vecchia, who grew close with Farnan as the case went through the courts and eventually died in 1999. Della Vecchia's husband received the award in her name.

Denied on statute of limitations grounds was a $5.8 million award for Frank Amodeo, whose personal and medical history became an integral part of the biggest jury award in U.S. history.

A day after the ruling, Farnan was disappointed, ecstatic and grateful. She also was hopeful and furious, she said.

Three packs a day
Farnan smoked for 30 years — sometimes three packs a day, sometimes four. She knows she shouldn't have. She tried hypnosis, a counseling program and nicotine gum to stop.

What bothers her most, she said, is that the tobacco companies never took responsibility for killing so many people, for getting kids hooked before they could legally drive and lying about it when they learned they were killing their own customers.

'The devil in them'
"They must have the devil in them," she said of the tobacco companies, her bright blue eyes fighting tears.

"I was so, so upset in court one day. (A tobacco executive) came in and he was telling them this and that, and then he had the nerve to turn around and look at the plaintiffs and say, 'I'm sorry you got sick, but it's not my fault.' Do you believe that?"

She's hopeful because the high court did determine it was their fault, and sick smokers in Florida may file individual claims within the next year and seek other damages. She's disappointed because Amodeo, who cannot swallow and "eats" through a feeding tube, didn't get anything. Learn more about lung cancer

And because it doesn't seem like the tobacco companies have been affected by the judgment.

"They've hurt so many people and they don't even care," she said.

No denial
R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. spokesman David Howard said the company was still reviewing the ruling. He said the company disagreed with the court's finding that the tobacco industry concealed the dangers of smoking. R.J. Reynolds will defend itself "aggressively" if any cases should arise, he said.

"We are not going to deny ... that we produce a product that has health risks and adults should evaluate those risks when choosing to smoke or choosing to quit smoking," he said. "We don't deny that and I'm not going to."

Farnan now lives on 2.5 acres on Florida's west coast with two Boxers and her husband in a wood-panel house with a faded sign on the door reading, "No Smoking. Oxygen in use."

It's not tongue-in-cheek — there actually is an oxygen machine in the living room— but it's for her husband, who smoked even longer.

He was a plaintiff in the class-action suit who would've gotten part of the $145 billion award. He must now pursue the claim individually after the court determined class-action litigation wasn't appropriate because so much depended on individual cases.

Farnan wouldn't talk in detail about what she'd do with the money except to say she would help other people who need it.

She's not even counting on it until it's in her pocket — not after all this.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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