$79.5M in Punitive Damages Awarded in Tobacco Lawsuit

$79.5M in Punitive Damages Awarded in Tobacco Lawsuit

The widow of a Portland, Oregon smoking man who died of lung cancer in 1997 filed a personal injury lawsuit against Philip Morris for fraud and negligence, claiming that the cigarette maker eased the fears her husband had of smoking with an advertising campaign suggesting their cigarettes were safe.

The widow, Mayola Williams said that when her husband found out he had cancer, he said, “Those darn cigarette people finally did it. They were lying all the time.”

In Williams’ lawsuit, an Oregon jury awarded her $79.5 million in punitive damages, and $821,000 in compensatory damages, according to court records.

Punitive damages are awarded to punish defendants and discourage future misconduct.

Robert Peck, Williams’ attorney said that the company’s attempts to hide the dangers of the use of its products were “monstrous,” and that if ever a large award were justified, this would be the case.

Trial Lawyers for Public Justice said in a court brief “The tobacco industry has evaded liability for decades … and the result has been a public health catastrophe.”

Upheld in the Supreme Court

Philip Morris appealed the case, claiming that the punitive damages were too large in relation to the actual damages Williams suffered.

However the Oregon Supreme Court upheld the award, saying, “There can be no dispute that Philip Morris’ conduct was extraordinarily reprehensible. (It) knew that smoking caused serious and sometimes fatal disease, but it nevertheless spread false or misleading information to suggest … that doubts remained about that issue. … The scheme was damaging to the health of a very large group of Oregonians – the smoking public – and was killing a number of that group.”

Peck said that Philip Morris is trying to turn “review of punitive damage awards (into) a simple arithmetic exercise,” in which they simply look at the ratio of punitive to actual damages. He said the jury’s verdict was reached by the proper criteria for the proper reasons: “to achieve deterrence” and to return some of the cigarette maker’s “ill-gotten profit.”

If you or a loved one has been seriously injured or killed by a dangerous or defective product, you may be eligible to recover compensation for your losses. Please contact us today for a FREE consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney who can carefully examine your case and aggressively defend your best interests.

Find a Lawyer Now

Search for a Personal Injury lawyer in your state or province by using the forms to the right.