Sunday, February 10, 2008
Howard Bashman has a Law.com column about the Oregon Supreme Court's affirmance of the $79.5 million punitive damages award against Philip Morris. He ends with some advice (directed at junior associates, but it's likely as well directed to senior folks too):
It is worth emphasizing, in closing, that the reason Philip Morris failed to benefit from the U.S. Supreme Court's punitive damages ruling in its favor in this very case is that the trial lawyers for Philip Morris tried to slant their proposed punitive damages instruction too far in the defendant's favor. Had the company's proposed punitive damages instruction faithfully tracked the applicable Oregon statute, the Supreme Court of Oregon's ruling would have likely set aside the jury's punitive damages award and granted a new trial. The next time young litigation associates are pondering how far to twist the law in the client's favor in proposed jury instructions, it's best if they remember: Attempting to gain your client some subtle, modest advantage could backfire and eventually cause your client to lose its ability to overturn a nearly $80 million punitive damages award.