April 22, 2006
33:1 Verdict Upheld
An intermediate California appellate court affirmed yesterday a $28 million punitive damages verdict over $850,000 in compensatory damages in a tobacco case against now-Altria. The original verdict was for $28 yes-that's-a-b billion in punitives.
The opinion [PDF] indicates, among other things, that the decedent started smoking in 1956 when she was 17, and smoked for 45 years. And it has a lengthy chronology of events in the tobacco industry's history that it uses to justify the punitives award. It's also got an interesting preemption discussion.
The punitives discussion is fairly lengthy; its conclusion:
In summary, we conclude that Philip Morris’s conduct was extremely reprehensible, that the approximately 33-to-1 ratio of punitive damages to compensatory damages is not constitutionally excessive in light of the extreme reprehensibility of the misconduct, including the vast “scale and profitability” of the course of misconduct, and that those considerations together with Philip Morris’s financial condition justify the $28 million punitive damages award for purposes of the due process clause. We therefore reject Philip Morris’s contention that the award is constitutionally excessive.
Next, we'll see what the California Supreme Court says about it...
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