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Philip Morris Must Pay $99M for Smoker's Death

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By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on December 07, 2011 8:47 AM

Jesse D. Williams, a long-time smoker, died of lung cancer in 1997. His widow, Mayola Williams, filed a lawsuit against the tobacco company and prevailed in 1999. The Philip Morris lawsuit resulted in an award of $79.5 million in punitive damages.

Now, 12 years after a jury found Philip Morris culpable for Williams' death, the legal battle over damages may finally be over.

Philip Morris has long been appealing the damages decision. In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the tobacco company's appeal. They ended up paying 40% of the original $79.5 million plus 9% interest to Mayola.

Under Oregon law, the remaining 60% of punitive damages are to be paid to the state to compensate victims of crimes. Philip Morris balked, because they said that Oregon gave up their right to the damages when they made an agreement in 1998 not to pursue more smoking injury claims.

But, the Oregon Supreme Court disagreed. The court ruled that last week the company must pay the remaining amount of punitive damages, plus interest. In total, the company is on the hook for around $99 million.

Like in most states, punitive damages can be awarded in certain civil suits. Punitive damages are typically meant to punish the defendant. This is why sometimes a jury typically must find that the defendant acted with malice, or with reckless indifference to the plaintiff's well-being.

So when the jury found Philip Morris liable for Williams' death, they didn't just find that the tobacco company was negligent or acted carelessly.

The Philip Morris lawsuit's ruling isn't exactly final. An attorney for Jesse D. Williams' widow says that the company could appeal, though their options would likely be severely limited, reports The Oregonian.

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