Smoker’s award upheld by court

For the third time, the Oregon Supreme Court has allowed a $79.5 million punitive-damages judgment against Philip Morris. This award was twice struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, which suggested it was excessive.

Jesse Williams was a longtime Malboro smoker. The money was for his family. Jesse, who started smoking during the Army in the 1950s, died of lung cancer in 1997.

According to, the Oregon court’s decision this week did not contest the U.S. Supreme Court’s latest ruling. This ruling said that when juries assess punitive damages, they can punish a defendant only for the harm done to the people suing. But the Oregon court said that a judge’s decision not to allow the jury instructions proposed by Philip Morris at the trial was correct. The instructions were regarding punitive damages, and have been in the middle of the legal battle over the suit brought by Williams’ widow. The award was made by a Portland jury in 1999.

The first decision was made by the Oregon high court in 2002, when they refused to hear an appeal from Philip Morris. Then the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the judgment of nearly $80 million. Then, citing “reprehensible” conduct on the part of Philip Morris officials in marketing cigarettes, the punitive damages from the wrongful death claim were upheld by the Oregon Supreme Court.

According to, “The U.S. Supreme Court’s second narrower ruling did not address the size of the award but only how juries could consider the conduct of defendants in determining punitive damages.”

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