Punitive damage award entered against cigarette manufacturer
It was widely reported that on February 19, 2009, a Ft. Lauderdale jury awarded a smoker's widow eight million dollars in damages (3 million for compensation, 5 million punitive), after the Philip Morris Company persuaded the Florida Supreme Court to require individual trials in all 8,000 similar pending Florida tobacco company claims. The damage award is actually much smaller, as explained below. The individual trial ruling was part of the Florida Supreme Court's reversal of a 2006, 145 billion dollar punitive damage verdict on behalf of a class of injured smokers estimated to number 700,000. The second individual damage trial starts in the same courthouse, tomorrow.
The Florida Supreme Court's 2006 decision left in place the determination that Philip Morris "knowingly sold dangerous products and hid the risk" from consumers. Philip Morris immediately announced plans to appeal the 2009 verdict; it contends that the dead smoker was not "hopelessly addicted and incapable of quitting". The decedent, Stuart Hess, died in 1997 at age 55. The jury found him to be 58 percent responsible for his smoking habit, which would reduce the award to approximately $1.3 million dollars for compensation.
A 79 million dollar class action verdict against Philip Morris in the State of Oregon is currently on appeal. It would seem that jurors' sympathy for smokers is definitely limited, but that their sympathy for cigarette sellers is exhausted, entirely.