Oregon Appeals Court Reaffirms $79.5 Million Verdict Against Philip Morris USA
An Oregon appeals court on Wednesday reaffirmed a $79.5 million verdict against tobacco company Philip Morris USA in the case of an Oregon smoker who died of lung cancer, the AP/Lexington Herald-Leader reports (Cain, AP/Lexington Herald-Leader, 6/10). In October 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the $79.5 million punitive damage verdict against Philip Morris and ordered lower courts in Oregon to re-evaluate the size of the award. The courts were instructed to reconsider the verdict in light of a Supreme Court ruling in April 2003 that sharply limited the power of juries to punish companies with huge punitive damage awards. An Oregon jury in 1999 awarded $800,000 in compensatory damages and $79.5 million in punitive damages to the family of deceased smoker Jesse Williams, who died of lung cancer in 1997. The family alleged that Philip Morris conducted a fraudulent, four-decade-long marketing and public relations campaign to cast doubt on smoking risks. The award was reduced to $32 million by Circuit Judge Anna Brown and then reinstated by the Oregon Court of Appeals (California Healthline, 10/7/03). The state court said Wednesday that the award was justified because Philip Morris had "knowingly marketed a harmful product for decades," the AP/Herald-Leader reports. Philip Morris' parent company, New York-based Altria Group, said in a statement that the award is "grossly excessive and clearly inconsistent" with recent Supreme Court decisions on damage awards. The company said that it plans to ask the Oregon Supreme Court to review the ruling (AP/Lexington Herald-Leader, 6/10).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.