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    Altria Makes Third Bid to Limit Damages in Suit

    The $79.5 million award would be a record payment for a cigarette-smoking related suit.

    WASHINGTON -- For the third time, Altria Group Inc., parent company to cigarette maker Philip Morris USA, asked the Oregon Supreme Court to reconsider a $79.5 million award in an Oregon smoker case, Bloomberg News reported. Twice before the court had reinstated the damaged.

    In the case, Mayola Williams was awarded $79.5 million in punitive damages by a Portland jury in 1999. The award has grown to more than $140 million with interest, the report stated. The punitive award was in addition to $821,485 in compensatory damages, an amount that was later cut to $521,485 due to Oregon’s limits on awards, Bloomberg News reported.

    After the Oregon courts upheld the award, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 ordered reconsideration, citing a ruling it made that year in another punitive damages case. The Oregon Supreme Court reaffirmed the award, and the U.S. Supreme Court again intervened, the report stated.

    This time, Philip Morris is asking the court during hearings this week to order a new trial and wipe out what would be a record payment in a smoker lawsuit, according to the report.

    Philip Morris argues that judges in Oregon and elsewhere don’t always comply with recent Supreme Court decisions that tightened the constitutional limits on punitive damages, the report stated.

    The case "could be very significant depending on the force of the court’s opinion," Jonathan Hacker, a Washington attorney who filed a brief for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce supporting Philip Morris, told Bloomberg News.

    Opponents, including seven anti-tobacco groups, stated in a court filing the hearing is essentially the tobacco industry’s "endless appeal" strategy, according to the report.

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