The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris to overturn a state verdict of $79.9 million awarded to the widow of a longtime smoker by an Oregon jury. Legal analysts believe the ruling may mark a shift in the court, who most consider to be decidedly “pro business” it its rulings.
The court’s ruling ended a decade-long battle for Mayola Williams, the widow of Jess Williams, a Portland Oregon janitor and smoker who died of lung cancer. In the product liability lawsuit, the family argued that Jesse, who began smoking in the 1950s, believed that cigarettes would not harm his health because of representations made by the cigarette company. A state jury agreed, awarding Mayola over $800,000 in compensatory damages, and $79.5 million in punitive damages.
Organized business interests had hoped the high court would send a strong warning to state courts about excessive punitive awards, and clarify a constitutional limit, but that was not to be the case.
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