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Supreme Court orders new punitive damage trial in $20 million tobacco case

By Chris Rizo | Aug 1, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (Legal Newsline)-A jury erred in awarding a $20 million judgment against cigarette maker Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., the Missouri Supreme Court has signaled by remanding the case back to a lower court.

The judgment was overturned by a state appeals court in August 2007. The appeals court found that the award was excessive. The appeals court remanded the case back to a Jackson County judge for a new decision on punitive damages.

But the state's highest court sent the case Thursday back to the three-member appeals court without explanation, which essentially upholds the original appellate decision.

The justices issued their one-page order five months after the high court heard oral arguments in the case.

The $20 million judgment was awarded in 2005 to Lincoln Smith as a way to punish Brown & Williamson for the death of his wife, Barbara Smith, who died at 73 of a heart attack in 2000.

Court papers say she quit smoking in 1990 after being diagnosed with heart disease and emphysema, and in 1992, she was diagnosed with lung cancer.

The Jackson County jury also awarded Lincoln Smith $2 million for injuries, but that award was slashed to $500,000 because the jurors decided Barbara Smith was 75 percent responsible for her health as she had smoked Kool brand cigarettes for nearly 50 years.

Among other things, attorneys for Brown & Williamson argue the punitive damages awarded by the jury were excessive because they were 40 times greater than the compensatory award.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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