State Supreme Court Orders Review of $26.5 Million Award to Smoker
The California Supreme Court at its private weekly conference ordered an appellate court to review a 1999 ruling in a case against Philip Morris USA that resulted in a $26.5 million award -- most of which was punitive damages -- to a smoker, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports. The move follows two U.S. Supreme Court decisions in April and May that ordered reviews of cases with high punitive damages awards. It is California's first attempt to comply with the decisions, which did not specify an "absolute formula" to determine what punishment is reasonable. However, the court did suggest that punitive damage awards should be no more than nine times the amount of other damage awards in the case and that a company's wealth should not be a factor in a jury's decision (Kravets, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 6/26). In the Philip Morris lawsuit, Patricia Henley, who smoked Marlboro cigarettes from the early 1960s to 1997 and was diagnosed with lung cancer, alleged that the tobacco company concealed evidence about the risk and addictiveness of its products. She was awarded $1.5 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages (California Healthline, 3/21). In a written statement, Philip Morris officials said that the company "believes the California Supreme Court reached the legally correct decision ... in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision regarding punitive damages." However, Henley's attorney, Daniel Smith, said that because the tobacco company's conduct was "so outrageous," the decision "left open the possibility that lofty awards could stand" for punitive damages, which are meant to punish illegal corporate conduct, the AP/Sun reports (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 6/26).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.