SCOTUS to Review PM USA Case

Agrees to review appeal this fall

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court said Tuesday it will decide if Philip Morris USA must pay nearly $80 million in damages to a longtime smoker, a case that could shield companies from large jury awards, according to the Associated Press.

The Oregon Supreme Court had ruled that the amount wasn't excessive given the extraordinarily reprehensible conduct of Philip Morris in marketing cigarettes.

A jury had ordered damages be paid to the family of Jesse D. Williams, a janitor who smoked three packs of Marlboros a day before he [image-nocss] died in 1997 of lung cancer. Williams took up cigarettes in the 1950s while serving in the Army in Korea.

The case gives justices a chance to clarify a 2003 ruling in an insurance case that said punitive damages should generally be in line with actual damages. Arguments will be this fall.

PM USA lawyers said that the punitive damages in the Williams case were nearly 100 times the compensatory damages and that the Oregon Supreme Court decision is dangerous.

The state court said that the company 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 the issue.

The case is Philip Morris USA v. Williams, 05-1256.

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