State Supreme Court Upholds $10.5 Million in Damages Against Philip Morris
The California Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a $10.5 million damage award to former smoker Patricia Henley Reyes, marking the first time the state has upheld such a ruling in a health-related smoking case, the Los Angeles Times reports (Levin, Los Angeles Times, 9/17). In the lawsuit, Reyes -- who smoked Marlboro cigarettes from the early 1960s to 1997, when she was diagnosed with lung cancer -- alleged that Philip Morris USA concealed evidence about the risk and addictiveness of its products.
A San Francisco Supreme Court jury in 1999 awarded Reyes $1.5 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages. A judge later halved the award to $25 million, and the California Supreme Court last year ordered an appellate court to review the 1999 ruling to comply with two U.S. Supreme Court decisions that ordered reviews of cases with high punitive damage awards.
The U.S. Supreme Court rulings did not specify an "absolute formula" to determine what punishment is reasonable, but the court did suggest that punitive damage awards 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. A state appellate court in Sept. 2003 reduced the damages to $10.5 million (California Healthline, 9/29/03).
Reyes, who has said she would use most of the award to fund a foundation that would support anti-smoking campaigns and help children with respiratory ailments, said, "I'm delighted. There's justice in this world."
David Sylvia, a spokesperson for Philip Morris parent company Altria Group, said the company was disappointed in the ruling and was considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Reyes attorney Madelyn Chaber said she was hopeful her client would soon receive the award. She added, "It's a 6-1 ratio [in damages]. I don't think they (Philip Morris) have any other issues that the (U.S.) Supreme Court is going to care about" (Los Angeles Times, 9/17).