Judge Awards $26.5 Mil. to Smoker
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ A judge refused to overturn a jury’s verdict against Philip Morris on Tuesday but lowered from $51.5 million to $26.5 million the amount the company must pay to a former three-pack-a-day smoker with inoperable lung cancer.
When Patricia Henley won $51.5 million in February, it was the largest award ever in a tobacco liability lawsuit filed by an individual smoker. That was based on $1.5 million in compensatory damages to cover medical expenses, pain and suffering, and $50 million in punitive damages.
Three other awards in similar cases have been overturned on appeal.
On Tuesday, Judge John Munter said the $50 million punitive award in Ms. Henley’s case was excessive. A damage award of $25 million _ easily more than the $15 million Ms. Henley asked for _ is enough to punish Philip Morris for misleading the public about the dangers of smoking and for marketing cigarettes to teen-agers, he said.
Munter also denied the company’s request for a new trial.
Harry Wartnick, a lawyer for Ms. Henley, noted that she has the option of rejecting the reduced award and retrying the case. But he said $26.5 million should be enough to ``get a message across to Philip Morris and to any other company that looks to market products that kill human beings.″
A call to Philip Morris was not returned. William Ohlemeyer, a lawyer for the company, had argued that Philip Morris wasn’t responsible for Ms. Henley’s decision to smoke and never claimed cigarettes were safe. He said there was no evidence she started smoking or continued to smoke because of Philip Morris ads.
Ms. Henley, 52, of Los Angeles, said she became hooked on Marlboros at age 15 and smoked three packs a day until 1997, after she started suffering coughing fits and other health problems. She was diagnosed last year with inoperable lung cancer, which she says is now in remission after chemotherapy and radiation.
Her suit was the first tried in California since the repeal of a 1987 law that protected tobacco companies against suits by individual smokers.
Last week, an Oregon jury awarded $80.3 million to the family of a Portland man who died of lung cancer after smoking three packs of Marlboros a day for 42 years.
Three jury verdicts for smokers in other states have been overturned on appeal, and juries in other cases have ruled in tobacco companies’ favor.