Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Oregon Supreme Court Affirms $79.5 Million Punitive Damages Award Accompanying $521K Compensatories Based on “Extraordinarily Reprehensible” Conduct

BNA’s U.S. Law Week (Volume 74 Number 31 Tuesday, February 21, 2006, Page 1491 ISSN 1522-4317) is reporting on Williams v. Philip Morris, Inc., 340 Or. 35, --- P.3d ---- (Or. Feb. 2, 2006):

“Punitive damages award of $79.5 million atop compensatory damages of $521,000 to deceased smoker's widow, although vastly exceeding single-digit ratio of punitive to compensatory damages, is not grossly excessive in violation of 14th Amendment's due process clause in view of cigarette maker's extraordinarily reprehensible conduct, which put significant number of victims at profound risk for decades, and severe criminal penalties for such conduct under Oregon law."

Here's an excerpt from the opinion:

[T]here can be no dispute that Philip Morris's conduct was extraordinarily reprehensible. Philip Morris knew that smoking caused serious and sometimes fatal disease, but it nevertheless spread false or misleading information to suggest to the public that doubts remained about that issue. It deliberately did so to keep smokers smoking, knowing that it was putting the smokers' health and lives at risk, and it continued to do so for nearly half a century.

Philip Morris's fraudulent scheme would have kept many Oregonians smoking past the point when they would otherwise have quit. Some of those smokers would eventually become ill; some would die. Philip Morris's deceit thus would, naturally and inevitably, lead to significant injury or death.


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