Wednesday, October 25, 2006
The Supreme Court will hear oral argument on October 31 in Philip Morris v. Williams, concerning constitutional limits on punitive damages in the context of a tobacco wrongful death case. The Oregon Supreme Court upheld the jury verdict of $821,000 in compensatory damages and $79.5 million in punitive damages. In other punitive damage cases, the Justices have been split on due process constraints, so the views of newcomers Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito may determine the outcome and shape the analysis. For mass tort litigation, the case is particularly important, because it raises not only the issue of excessiveness (especially, how strictly the Court will enforce the single-digit ratio approach of State Farm v. Campbell), but also the critical issue of whether due process permits punitive damages that take account of harms to nonparties. Here's an article on the Williams case in this week's National Law Journal, Court Revisits Punitives, and Tony Sebok's analysis at Findlaw, Part One and Part Two.