Supreme Court Dismisses Philip Morris Appeal of $79 Million Award
April 1, 2009 – Philip Morris USA Inc. lost its last chance to overturn a $79.5 million punitive-damages award over an Oregon smoker’s death Tuesday after the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the tobacco company’s appeal. Now, ten years and a day after a jury awarded Mayola Williams nearly $80 million in punitive damages, she can collect her share.
No justices dissented to the dismissal, which was issued without an opinion. The Supreme Court’s decision is likely to disappoint business groups that hoped the high court would use this case as precedent to set stricter guidelines for punitive damage awards.
Mayola Williams Sues Philip Morris
Mayola Williams brought the lawsuit on behalf of her late husband, Jesse, who began smoking in 1950 while serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. Jesse was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1996 and died the following year. After a state jury trial, Ms. Williams was awarded $821,485 in actual damages and $79.5 million in punitive damages.
Philip Morris Appeals Punitive Damages
In 2003 and 2007, Phillip Morris appealed the $79 million punitive damages award before the Supreme Court. In the latter case, the high court ordered by a 5-4 margin that the damages be brought into compliance with recent Supreme Court rulings restricting the size of punitive damage awards. The Oregon Supreme Court, however, declined to reconsider the award, saying Philip Morris couldn’t challenge the verdict because it failed to comply with state rules regarding jury instructions in the case.
The U.S. Supreme Court held oral arguments on the latest appeal in December 2008. Although some justices said they were concerned that the Oregon court was ignoring the U.S. Supreme Court’s order, the high court ultimately declined to issue an opinion in the matter.
According to news sources, Mayola Williams stands to collect between $60 million and $65 million from a pot that has grown to more than $155 million because of interest accrued over the last 10 years. The remaining money is supposed to be given to a state crime victim’s fund, but Philip Morris said that it plans to contest this portion.
Now that the public has become aware that smoking is dangerous, many smokers are trying to kick the habit with the help of antismoking drugs. However, one particular antismoking drug, Chantix, may cause more harm than good. In fact, recent studies have linked Chantix to seizures, depression, and other serious side effects.
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