Liggett, the US cigarette manufacturer saddled with £520m damages by a Florida jury, is said to be seeking to recover its defence costs and damages from 33 insurers, including the American subsidiaries of Zurich Financial Services and CGNU.

The tobacco company is understood to be on the verge of filing a legal action to force the insurers to meet its costs in the US state of Delaware.

By taking this step, Liggett would be breaking ranks with the four other tobacco companies hit by damages in the Florida case.

They are believed to have decided against suing their insurers because they fear their policies are riddled with exclusion clauses.

The insurers being pursued by Liggett would have 30 days to respond to any action.

A spokeswoman for ZFS was dismissive that such an action would meet with success. “This is not a serious claim,” she said.

A CGNU spokesman said it had taken extensive measures, through exclusion clauses, to protect itself in any cigarette company business it had written.

The insurer does not expect significant claims.