State Appeals Court Upholds $26.5M Verdict Against Philip Morris
The tobacco industry suffered a "sharp defeat" Tuesday after a California appeals court upheld a "landmark" $26.5 million verdict against Philip Morris Cos. in a lawsuit filed by a 54-year-old lung cancer patient, the Los Angeles Times reports (Levin, Los Angeles Times, 11/8). In the case, Patricia Henley, who smoked three packs of the company's Marlboro cigarettes per day from the early 1960s until 1997, argued that Philip Morris had "hidden evidence about the risks of smoking and its addictiveness" (Reuters/Contra Costa Times, 11/7). A San Francisco Superior Court jury in March 1999 awarded Henley $1.5 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages, an award later reduced to $25 million (Los Angeles Times, 11/8). Philip Morris argued that "it was not responsible for Henley's decision to smoke" and said that "there was no evidence" that she began to smoke as a result of Marlboro advertisements or company statements (Kravets, AP/Contra Costa Times, 11/8). However, in a 3-0 decision issued late Tuesday, the state's 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco agreed with the lower court ruling, finding that Philip Morris "touted to children what it knew to be an addictive and cumulatively toxic product while doing everything it could" to hide the dangers. The court also found that "only a very substantial award was sufficient" in the case (Los Angeles Times, 11/8). Philip Morris plans to appeal the case to the state Supreme Court. "There was no credible evidence presented in this case that Philip Morris ever said or did anything that caused ... Henley to begin smoking," William Ohlemeyer, vice president and general counsel of Philip Morris, said. He added that the punitive damages awarded "far exceeded" guidelines outlined by the U.S. Supreme Court in the past few years (Reuters/Contra Costa Times, 11/7).
The Los Angeles Times reports that analysts have "closely watched" the Henley case, the first lawsuit filed after the Legislature lifted a "virtual ban" on tobacco litigation in 1998 (Los Angeles Times, 11/8). According to the AP/Contra Costa Times, a Philip Morris win might have "immunized the industry in California from many injury claims before 1998." Philip Morris argues that the state law that allows smokers to sue tobacco companies does not apply to injuries suffered before 1998 and has said that the verdict in the Henley case "should be reduced or nullified" (AP/Contra Costa Times, 11/8). After Henley's victory in 1999, two additional California plaintiffs filed tobacco lawsuits, which both resulted in "significant losses" to cigarette companies. Tobacco companies also have appealed those verdicts (Los Angeles Times, 11/8).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.