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A smoker with incurable lung and brain cancer was awarded a record $3 billion in damages by a jury, which ruled that Philip Morris did not properly warn him of the risks of smoking.
The award was the largest individual punitive damage award against a cigarette maker and set off alarm bells in an industry facing similar suits, Reuters reported.
New York-based Philip Morris Cos. Inc. said it would try to get the award thrown out and, failing that, appeal the decision. It called the massive award "outrageous" and said the plaintiff, Richard Boeken, had ignored health warnings by smoking two packs of Marlboro cigarettes a day for more than 40 years.
A Los Angeles Superior Court jury found against the tobacco giant for fraud, negligence and making a defective product. The jury awarded $3 billion in punitive damages and $5.5 million in compensatory damages to Boeken, a securities and oil broker whose lung cancer has spread to his brain, the report said.
Last year, Philip Morris, which also markets a range of snack foods and Miller beer, earned almost $11 billion from tobacco sales alone.
"Obviously we're very disappointed with the verdict," attorney Maury Leiter, who represented Philip Morris, told reporters. "We recognize that Philip Morris is an unpopular company that makes a dangerous product. But we don't believe the evidence supports the verdict in this case."
Lawyers for Philip Morris argued Boeken knew of the risks of smoking because of the health warnings printed on the cigarette packs but continued to smoke anyway. "The verdict is outrageous and holds our legal system up to ridicule," William Ohlemeyer, associate general counsel for Philip Morris, said in a statement.
The tobacco company argued that the jury had been given improper instructions, was prevented from hearing key evidence and that the 600-1 ratio of punitive to compensatory damages awarded by the jury was "wildly out of line" with legal precedent, an issue it said an appellate court would consider, the report said.