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Another Supreme Court Review of Smoker's Suit

The U.S. Supreme Court today agreed to hear an appeal from Philip Morris USA, a unit of Altria, on a $79.5 million award in an Oregon smoker lawsuit. (Philip Morris USA Inc., v. Mayola Williams, U.S. Supreme Court 07-126). Stories from Bloomberg, The Oregonian and Reuters.

This is the well-known case where the widow of a heavy smoker sued Philip Morris, claiming the smoker believed company claims that smoking was safe. In February 2007, the Supreme Court reversed on a 5-to-4 vote an Oregon Supreme Court ruling that upheld an $79.5 punitive damages award to the widow, Mayola Williams. (Opinion here.) The Supreme Court found that the trial court allowed the jury to punish Philip Morris for possible injuries to non-parties and sent the case back to Oregon -- but the state Supreme Court upheld the award, widely read as a direct challenge to the Supremes.

Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris, issued a statement:

"Philip Morris USA is pleased that the Supreme Court has accepted review. The Court has previously instructed the Oregon appellate courts to properly apply the constitutional standards to the punitive damage award in this case. The Oregon courts have not done so, and so the Supreme Court has agreed to review the case once again," said Murray Garnick, Altria Client Services senior vice president and associate general counsel, speaking on behalf of PM USA.

More background from the Washington Legal Foundation, which filed an amicus brief in support of Philip Morris.

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.