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NEW YORK -- The Supreme Court on Monday threw out an $80-million verdict against leading cigarette maker Philip Morris.
The verdict, for the family of an Oregon janitor who died in 1997 of lung cancer, should be reviewed by lower courts to ensure it is not unconstitutionally excessive, justices said.
The court's action was encouraging for businesses, which hope a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year will lead to reductions in large punitive damage verdicts. It was the second victory for Philip Morris in its legal battles with the family of Jesse Williams, who accused the company of concealing information about the dangers of smoking. Williams started smoking in the 1950s and smoked three packs of Marlboros a day, the Associated Press reported.
After a jury in 1999 ordered the company to pay the Williams family $79.5 million in punitive damages, the judge reduced the award to $32 million. A state appeals court reinstated the punitive damages award last year.
The Supreme Court ordered Oregon courts to review the judgment, in light of their ruling earlier this year that a jury went too far in ordering an insurance company to pay $145 million over the way it handled claims from a car accident.
Andrew Frey of Washington, an attorney for Philip Morris, had told the court that like the State Farm judgment, the damages award against Philip Morris was out of line.