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March 15, 2006

State's Tobacco Settlement Bars Punitive Damages

The Georgia Supreme Court has ruled that the state's participation in the 46-state, $246 billion master settlement agreement with tobacco companies precludes an individual's claim for punitive damages (Court's opinion).  The Court considered the issue as a pre-trial question of state law certified to the court by Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Vining who is presiding over a products liability suit brought against Brown & WIlliamson Tobacco Corp.  The court concluded that, in the settlement agreement, the state released Brown & Williamson from all claims, including claims for punitive damages, arising out of the manufacture or sale of tobacco.  The court reasoned that punitive damages serve a public interest and are intended to protect the general public as opposed to benefitting or rewarding private parties.  Consequently, the state's settlement of punitive damages claims on behalf of all of Georgia's citizens is res judicata as to punitive damages claims.  According to a story by Alyson Palmer in the Fulton County Daily Report, other state courts have upheld punitive damages awards in suits brought by citizens of states that entered into the 1998 master settlement agreement.


March 15, 2006 | Permalink


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