NYT: High Court Tosses Philip Morris Judgment

The Supreme Court on Monday threw out an $80 million verdict against cigarette-maker Philip Morris.

The verdict, for the family of an Oregon janitor who died in 1997 of lung cancer, should be reviewed by lower courts to ensure it is not unconstitutionally excessive, justices said.

The court’s action was encouraging for businesses, which hope a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year will lead to reductions in large punitive damage verdicts.

It was the second victory for Philip Morris in its legal battles with the family of Jesse D. Williams, who accused the company of concealing information about the dangers of smoking. Williams started smoking in the 1950s when serving in the Army in Korea, and later he smoked three packs of Marlboros a day.

After a jury in 1999 ordered the company to pay the Williams family $79.5 million in punitive damages, the judge reduced the award to $32 million. A state appeals court reinstated the punitive damages award last year.

The Supreme Court ordered Oregon courts to review the judgment, in light of their ruling earlier this year that a jury went too far in ordering an insurance company to pay $145 million over the way it handled claims from a car accident.


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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Its always the cases on the edge of outrageousness that makes the news . . . over the years, millions of otherwise boring and typical court cases moved forward or got settled or thrown out or eventually, were litigated.

    We never hear about those, cause they are not news. What is news are the files that are 2 standard deviations away from the historic trend.

    I hope the courts take it upon themselves to toss the nonsense out — Otherwise, we get “Legislative Intervention” — and that has all sorts of unintended consequences.

    The bestexample is the 1995 Civil Litigation Reform Act — vetoed by Clinton, overriden by a bi-partisan congress. I’m convinced that it had a major role in much of the Arthur Anderson/Enron debacle because it eliminated most of the liability and all of the punitive damages versus Accountants.