Ex-Smoker with Lung Cancer Awarded $26.5 Million
San Francisco, CA -- November 16, 2001 -- A California appellate court has upheld the award of $26.5 million to an ex-smoker who is suffering from lung cancer (Patricia Henley v. Philip Morris Inc.). Patricia Henley began smoking in 1961 at the age of 15, when no health warnings were included on cigarette packages or in tobacco advertisements. Believing that tobacco "was not a harmful product" she became addicted to cigarettes. Ms. Henley smoked Philip Morris's Marlboros and Marlboro Lights until 1997, when she was diagnosed with lung cancer.
The court noted that by 1953, cigarette manufacturers were acting together to counter mounting scientific information about the health hazards of cigarette smoking. By the time Ms. Henley started smoking, these manufacturers clearly knew about the carcinogenic effects of cigarettes and the strong correlation between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. However, they launched public relations campaigns about the safety of smoking, manipulated the media, and produced tobacco advertisements that targeted the teenage audience.
Immunity Clause Did Not Apply to Philip Morris
In its defense argument, Philip Morris relied on a statute that from 1988 until 1998, barred claims against dangerous products, including tobacco, if the risks were well-known to the consumer. In 1998, the legislature deleted the original statutory language about tobacco suits, adding that tobacco was not exempt from product liability actions. The present court found that the 1998 changes were retroactive, and that Philip Morris was not immune from liability.
Tobacco Marketed to Children
Calling Philip Morris's conduct "reprehensible," the court stated that "Millions of youngsters ...enslaved themselves to a habit that brought early loss of enjoyment of life, illness, and death." "The record reflects that (Philip Morris) touted to children what it knew to be an addictive and cumulatively toxic product while doing everything it could to prevent addicts and prospective addicts from appreciating the true nature and effect of that product."