Punitive Damages Award Reinstated

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Punitive Damages Award Reinstated

SALEM, Ore. -- The Oregon Court of Appeals on Wednesday reinstated a $79.5-million punitive damage award against Philip Morris in a lawsuit brought by relatives of a man who died after smoking Marlboros for four decades.

The award had been reduced to $32 million by a trial judge on grounds that it was excessive. The 1999 jury award was, at the time, the largest liability verdict against Big Tobacco, the Associated Press reported.

The damages totaled more than $80 million when awards for medical costs and pain and suffering were included. The punitive damages were awarded for fraud on grounds that the tobacco giant knew of the harm of smoking and concealed the facts. The appeals panel unanimously said the jury's punitive damage award to the family of Jesse Williams fit within federal standards. Williams died of lung cancer in 1997 at age 67 after smoking mostly Marlboro cigarettes for 42 years.

There was little doubt about the link between smoking and lung cancer by the late 1950s, the appeals court wrote in its opinion, "and there was absolutely no basis for a genuine dispute on the issue by the 1970s and 1980s."

Nevertheless, the company continued a public relations campaign "asserting that smoking had not been proven to be harmful" that was intended "to give smokers a crutch to justify their continued smoking," the court wrote. "There is no evidence defendant showed any regret or changed its conduct upon the discovery of its actions."

The court said a $79.5-million award would have little impact on a company that was making profit amounting to more than $30 million a week.