OR top bench sends $80m, 9-year case back to court

Legal News Line Feb. 4, 2008, 2:00am

Justice W. Michael Gillette

SALEM -- The Oregon Supreme Court has again allowed a huge punitive-damages award against Big Tobacco's Philip Morris to stand after it was twice rebuffed by the U.S. Supreme Court. In Mayola Williams v. Philip Morris Inc. (docket# S051805) filed last week, the Oregon SC ruled against the USSC on whether the original trial jury should have received instructions proposed by Philip Morris. It did not address whether jurors could use damages to punish a company for injuries to people who aren't part of the lawsuit before the court. "[W]e now conclude that the proposed jury instruction at issue here also was flawed for other reasons that we did not identify in our former opinion," wrote Justice W. Michael Gillette for the five-justice unanimous majority. The USSC's overturning last spring of a $79.5 million verdict awarded to the widow of a 40-year smoker who died of lung cancer was widely hailed as a victory for tort reformers, LNL reported. The verdict hinged on what the court considered to be ambiguous jury instructions rather than the size of the damages award. The Williams case, which began in Portland in 1999, has now been remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings.

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