Oct. 31 2006
Washington, DC — Today, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in the Philip Morris v. Williams case from Oregon. At issue is a $79.5 million punitive damage award, upheld by the Oregon Supreme Court, to the widow of long-time smoker, Jesse Williams. Although the U.S. Supreme Court has held in the past that punitive damages should not exceed nine times the amount of compensatory damages, it left open the possibility that higher punitive damages could be awarded in cases where a defendant's behavior was particularly egregious. There is no question that Philip Morris’s behavior in the Williams case qualifies as an exceptional example of continuous corporate irresponsibility.
U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler recently found that Philip Morris (and other cigarette manufacturers) violated civil racketeering laws by engaging in a pattern of 50 years of lying about the dangers of smoking. The Oregon Supreme Court found Philip Morris’ corporate behavior so reprehensible that it felt justified in exceeding the guidelines the U.S. Supreme Court has set in recent years on limits to punitive damage awards.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and 16 other national public health and medical groups have filed an amicus brief in the Williams case documenting five decades of harmful and deceitful behavior on the part of Philip Morris. In deciding the merits of the case, we urge the U.S. Supreme Court to take into account the extraordinary damage that Philip Morris has done to the nation’s health.