Friday, October 04, 2002

$28 Billion in Punitive Damages Awarded Against Philip Morris

A California jury awarded a plaintiff $28 billion in punitive damages today, in a suit against Philip Morris Inc., for fraud and negligence. The plaintiff was diagnosed with lung cancer last year, which has since spread to her liver. This is the largest individual jury award to a plaintiff in a suit against a tobacco company. The largest amount awarded previously to an individual in a tobacco case was $3 billion, later reduced by the court to $100 million.

The Tobacco Control Resource Center (TBRC) is run by the Tobacco Products Liability Project (TPLR), and has an interesting look at the background of the case:
Philip Morris employed a new defense strategy in this case. Rather than presenting many expert and fact witnesses, the company only called a single witness in its defense. During the punitive damages phase of the trial, Philip Morris' attorney, Peter Bleakley, essentially told the jury that, while the company might have misbehaved in the past, the company is now so closely monitored that deterrence, in the form of punitive damages, was unnecessary. The jury obviously disagreed.
The TBRC is located at Northeastern University School of Law, and provides information about a number of other individual and class-action lawsuits against the tobacco industry. The TPLR also has a special report on the case in their latest issue of Tobacco on Trial, which also links to the complaint in the case.

The Philip Morris web site presents information on health issues involved with smoking. They also have a page stating their position relating to government regulation and litigation.