Mo. Court Tosses B&W Judgment

Orders new trial in nine-year legal battle

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A Missouri appeals court threw out a $1.5 million punitive judgment last week against Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. and ordered a new trial to reconsider the issue, reported The Kansas City Star.

The new trial would be the third in a nine-year legal battle waged by the survivors of Barbara Smith, who died of a heart attack in 2000. Although she had smoked Kool cigarettes for about 46 years, Smith gave them up in 1990. She was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1992, but after surgery apparently was found to be cancer free, according to the report, citing the ruling from the Missouri Western District Court of Appeals.

In 2005, an Independence, Mo., jury awarded Smith's family $2 million in compensatory damages, which later was reduced to $500,000 because she was determined to be 75% at fault. Jurors also awarded Smith's children $20 million in punitive damages.

The appeals court later threw out the punitive judgment, ruling that the basis for the jury's award was not clear, and ordered a new trial on punitive damages alone, said the report.

At the second trial jurors awarded only $1.5 million in punitive damages, the report added.

The appeals court found that the judge had allowed Brown & Williamson's lawyers to argue improperly that R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. actually would be paying the punitive damages and did not deserve to be hit with such a burden.

After the lawsuit was filed, Reynolds had acquired the rights to manufacture Kools and had assumed Brown & Williamson's existing liabilities. Such an argument allowed Brown & Williamson to effectively substitute Reynolds as a defendant in the case, appeals judges found.

Arguments about corporate "reshuffling" between the two tobacco companies cannot be used to mitigate the damages against Brown & Williamson, the court found.

"R.J. Reynolds assumed the risk when it agreed to the transaction with (Brown & Williamson), and its ultimate liability for the judgment rendered in this case should have no bearing on the amount awarded," the court ruled, according to the Star.