The U.S. Supreme Court has determined not to rule on an appeal from Richmond-based cigarette maker Philip Morris USA, which hoped to overturn a $79.5-million verdict in favor of a Oregon widow.
The decision leaves in place a ruling of the Oregon Supreme Court upholding the award for Mayola Williams. Williams contended that Philip Morris should be held accountable for leading people to think cigarettes were not dangerous or addictive. The jury awarded $800,000 in compensatory damages for the death of Williams’ husband, adding a punitive verdict about 97 times that figure.
According to the Associated Press, business interests once had hoped the high court would use the case to set firm limits on punitive damages. The appeal has bounced back and forth between the Oregon and U.S. courts since 2002.
The final word from the court is terse and anticlimactic: “The writ of certiorari is dismissed as improvidently granted.”
By Peter Vieth