Punitive Damages Against Tobacco Giant Upheld By California Appeals Court

An appeals court in Los Angeles has upheld $13.8 million in punitive damages against tobacco manufacturer Philip Morris. The damages were awarded for the addiction and death of a woman who smoked for 45 years.

The Second District Court of Appeals in Los Angeles affirmed a verdict in the case of Betty Bullock, who started smoking at age 17 and quit in 2001 after being diagnosed with lung cancer. She died two years later.

Bullock sued Philip Morris, accusing the company of defrauding her by deceptively marketing an addictive and lethal product, before the government required tobacco companies to put warning labels on cigarette packages, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. In 2002, a jury awarded her $850,000 for medical costs, pain and suffering. They awarded an additional $28 billion in punitive damages for fraudulent conduct. It was the largest individual verdict in U.S. history, the article notes. The judge in the case reduced the punitive award to $28 million. That amount was reduced again in a retrial, after the U.S. Supreme Court put constitutional limits on punitive awards against businesses.

The state appeals court called Philip Morris’ decades of concealment and lies about the dangers of its products “extremely reprehensible.” Philip Morris argued the damages should be limited to $850,000, and is likely to ask the state Supreme Court to review the ruling, the newspaper reports.

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