Tobacco Decision Out of Oregon

You may hate tobacco lawsuits and lawyers who bring them. But you cannot help but agree that the tobacco industry is absolutely despicable. How the executives of the industry who lied to the country and the government for years can sleep is beyond me.

There are lots of people who agree, one group of them being the Supreme Court of the State of Oregon. This opinion affirms a significant punitive damage verdict against Phillip Morris.

Some excerpts:

"Again, we construe all facts in favor of plaintiff, the party in whose favor the jury ruled. Doing so, there can be no dispute that Philip Morris's conduct was extraordinarily reprehensible. Philip Morris 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 that issue. It deliberately did so to keep smokers smoking, knowing that it was putting the smokers' health and lives at risk, and it continued to do so for nearly half a century.

Philip Morris's fraudulent scheme would have kept many Oregonians smoking past the point when they would otherwise have quit. Some of those smokers would eventually become ill; some would die. Philip Morris's deceit thus would, naturally and inevitably, lead to significant injury or death.

Although it weighs less in our analysis, we also note that Philip Morris harmed a much broader class of Oregonians. Every smoker tricked by its scheme, even those who never got ill, kept buying cigarettes -- taking money out of their pockets and putting it into the hands of Philip Morris and other tobacco companies. And every one of those smokers risked serious illness or death for as long as they remained deceived."

There is more: "In essence, Philip Morris is claiming that one cannot reasonably infer that anyone was actually fooled by its 40-year advertising campaign directed to thousands of Oregonians. Yet even the simplest assessment of human nature, viewed in light of the designedly addictive properties of cigarettes, tells any reasonable person that those lies would have been very persuasive. We think that such an appreciation of human nature fairly may be attributed to jurors, including the ones who heard this case. Moreover, Philip Morris's own conduct belies its protestations. As a for-profit corporation, it would not spend over 40 years of time, effort, and money to deceive people, unless it thought it was succeeding."


A nice way to end: "In summary, Philip Morris, with others, engaged in a massive, continuous, near-half-century scheme to defraud the plaintiff and many others, even when Philip Morris always had reason to suspect -- and for two or more decades absolutely knew -- that the scheme was damaging the health of a very large group of Oregonians -- the smoking public -- and was killing a number of that group. Under such extreme and outrageous circumstances, we conclude that the jury's $79.5 million punitive damage award against Philip Morris comported with due process, as we understand that standard to relate to punitive damage awards. It follows that the Court of Appeals correctly held that the trial court should have entered judgment against Philip Morris for the full amount of the jury's punitive damage award."

Post-judgment interest on the verdict exceeds $47,000,000.

Obviously, the USSC will have the opportunity to hear this case. However, for the time being, if you are trying to uphold a punitive damage verdict under State Farm v. Campbell you need to read this opinion.

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