LOS ANGELES, CA -- October 11, 2002 -- A jury recently awarded $28 billion in punitive damages to 64-year-old Betty Bullock, a former smoker with lung cancer (Betty Bullock v. Philip Morris Incorporated et. al). As a teenager, Ms. Bullock began smoking Marlboro and Benson & Hedges cigarettes; both manufactured by Philip Morris. She was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2001. Charges against Philip Morris included negligence, false advertising, and fraud (see Ms. Bullock's complaint for details).
Determining the amount of punitive damages was the second phase of the trial. In the first phase, Ms. Bullock was awarded $850,000 in compensatory damages based on Philip Morris's liability for her cancer. Among the witnesses, jurors heard Sir Richard Doll, an 89-year-old epidemiologist, who spoke about the research he had done for over 50 years to document the illness and death caused by smoking.
Significance of Award Against Philip Morris
The Bullock case is of particular interest to California tobacco trial attorneys and their clients because a recent California Supreme Court ruling held that claims against tobacco companies could not be based on certain types of industry conduct within a 10-year statutory immunity period from 1988 until 1998 (Myers v. Philip Morris Companies, Inc. et al., No. S095213, August 5, 2002). Claims based on evidence outside this time period would be allowed, as would those charging that tobacco was altered by additives to make it more addictive.
Some cigarette companies considered the California Supreme Court decision a victory for the tobacco industry -- one that could vastly curtail the amount of penalties and damages against Big Tobacco. The Bullock case shows, however, that this prediction was not correct.
For more information about the Myers decision, and its companion case, Naegele v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., see another article, CA Supreme Court Confirms Right to Sue Tobacco Companies.