LITIGATION: S.F. Judge Halves ‘Excessive’ Award
Ruling that the $51.5 million punitive damage award that a "clearly angry jury" awarded to a cancer-stricken lifelong Marlboro was unreasonable, San Francisco Superior Court Judge John Munter reduced the amount to $26.5 million yesterday. Munter declined Philip Morris' request for a new verdict or a new trial, however, finding that the evidence against Philip Morris "was fully sufficient to support the jury's findings in every respect" (Levin, Los Angeles Times, 4/7). In an 18-page ruling, Munter called the original award "excessive," and said a more appropriate amount should be "somewhere between" the $15 million Henley asked for and "what was given." Attorneys for Philip Morris said the ruling was less than they had hoped for but that it was a step in the right direction; the cigarette maker plans to appeal the verdict and damage award (Geyelin, Wall Street Journal, 4/7). Tobacco opponents "said the verdict still sends a strong signal that the tobacco industry is now vulnerable to sizable jury verdicts," the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Henley's suit was the first against the tobacco industry in California since the state changed its law so individuals could sue cigarette makers for injuries (Chiang, 4/7).
Waiting in Memphis
Although Henley's award set records earlier this year for the largest ever against a tobacco company, a jury in Portland, OR, recently awarded an even more "stunning" $80 million to the family of a deceased smoker. The Los Angeles Times reports that in the wake of these losses, "industry analysts are intently watching a trio of smoking and health cases being tried before a single jury in Memphis," TN. The verdicts in those cases are expected by early May (4/7).