Published: Feb 18, 2011 7:28 PM EST
Updated: Feb 18, 2011 4:35 PM EST

MIAMI (AP) - A Florida Supreme Court ruling that threw out a $145 billion award against cigarette makers is biting Big Tobacco back by making it dramatically easier for many smokers to sue. It's turning the state into the nation's hot spot for damage awards.

The 2006 ruling has helped generate more than $360 million in awards in only about two dozen cases. Thousands more cases are in the pipeline.

In tossing the $145 billion class-action award, justices allowed about 8,000 individual members of that class to pursue their own lawsuits. And they allowed those plaintiffs to use the original jury's findings from the class-action case.

Plaintiffs' attorneys say it has changed the balance of power, while tobacco-company lawyers insist the process is rigged.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)