The Oregon Supreme Court sided with cigarette giant Philip Morris last week in refusing to reinstate a $100 million punitive damage ruling issued by a lower court in 2002. That earlier ruling was overturned by a state appellate court in 2006.
It is important to note that one part of the Oregon product liability and wrongful death case still stands: the original Oregon jury award of more than $164,500 in “economic losses, pain and suffering” is not affected by the ruling regarding punitive damages, according to The Oregonian. Moreover, the Supreme Court ruling does not mean that the case is finished or that punitive damages have been disallowed: merely that the issue of Oregon punitive damages must be reargued before a lower court.
The case concerns a Salem woman who died in 1999 after decades of regular smoking. According to The Oregonian, she switched to low-tar cigarettes in 1976, after a dozen years of smoking, believing that low tar cigarettes would be less problematic for her health. Oregon personal injury attorneys representing the woman’s family argued that Philip Morris possessed study data showing that smokers of low-tar cigarettes tended to inhale longer and more deeply, thus negating the alleged benefits of the product. The company, however, did not disclose this information to consumers.
The state appellate court threw out the $100 million Oregon punitive damage award on the grounds that the trial judge had incorrectly instructed jurors as they began their consideration of the verdict. From an Oregon personal injury attorney’s perspective this seeming legal technicality could prove to be of great use to clients over the course of time. Smokers seeking to gain justice after suffering decades of harm can take comfort from the fact that the Supreme Court’s ruling turned on the manner of the judge’s instructions to the jury, rather than on the substance of the claim that cigarettes can cause extensive damage to smokers and people around them.
Though smoking lawsuits can be particularly long and complex, that does not mean that people injured by tobacco companies should not consider pursuing them. Justice can be a long and trying road. With the assistance of an Oregon personal injury lawyer it is, however, a goal you can attain.
The Oregonian: Oregon Supreme Court says Philip Morris doesn’t have to pay $100 million for smoker’s death
Businessweek: Philip Morris $100 million punitive verdict reversed