Oregon Supreme Court Lets Tobacco Verdict Stand
PORTLAND, OR -- January 03, 2003 -- The Oregon Supreme Court declined to review an $80 million verdict against Philip Morris, letting the Oregon Court of Appeals decision stand. The award, which included $79.5 million in punitive damages, was to the family of Jesse Williams, a smoker who died of lung cancer.
A trial judge had reduced the award to $32 million, calling it excessive. The Oregon Court of Appeals disagreed, however, and said that the high punitive damages reflected the "reprehensible" conduct of Philip Morris. The company "sought to make large amounts of money by engaging for more than four decades in a fraudulent scheme to induce people to use ...a product that could cause serious illness or death."
The Appeals Court also looked at the "underlying purpose for awarding punitive damages, which is to punish and deter a wrongdoer." It maintained that Philip Morris would not change its actions without adequate punishment and pointed to the great wealth of the company.
The Williams opinion comes on the heels of a $150 million award against Philip Morris by a Multnomah County, OR jury. That case involved the heirs of Michelle Schwarz, a smoker who died of lung cancer after using so-called "low-tar" cigarettes for many years.