California Appeal Court Upholds $26.5 Million Award in Landmark Tobacco Case
SAN FRANCISCO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Nov. 7, 2001--In a blow to tobacco giant Philip Morris Inc., a state appeal court today upheld a $26.5 million award to Patricia Henley who is battling lung cancer.
The First District Court of Appeal soundly rejected arguments by Philip Morris that the $25 million punitive damage portion of the award was excessive and that Henley's case should never have gone to trial because the cigarette industry was immune from product liability suits.
``The court reached the right and only just decision,'' said Henley's trial attorney, Madelyn Chaber of Wartnick, Chaber, Harowitz & Tigerman
Henley, who began smoking at age 15, was the first person to pursue a case against the tobacco industry after a 1987 ban on product liability suits was lifted in January 1998. Henley was diagnosed with cancer the next month.
The appeal court, in upholding the punitive damages, wrote: ``...we do find defendant's conduct as reflected in the present record reprehensible. The record reflects that defendant touted to children what it knew to be an addictive and cumulatively toxic product while doing everything it could to prevent addicts and prospective addicts from appreciating the true nature and effects of that product.''
The result, the court wrote in its unanimous decision, ``was that millions of youngsters were persuaded to, and did, enslave themselves to a habit that was likely to, and did, bring many of them to an early loss of the enjoyment of life, illness and death.'' The decision was written by Justice Patricia K. Sepulveda.
Madelyn Chaber said the decision ``reflects the tobacco company's 50-year disinformation campaign and has resulted in an enormous death toll -- over 450,000 people every year in this country alone.''
``Rather than change its own behavior, the tobacco industry blames the victim while being the chief beneficiary of the fraud committed on the public,'' said Chaber. ``As noted by Congress, `For many people, the choice to smoke, may, as a practical matter, be irrevocable.''' Chaber said Philip Morris ``spends a hundred times more money on advertising what a great caring company it is than actually caring about people's health. The company has not stopped addicting children in the rest of the world, she said. ''They demonstrate no change in behavior.`` Chaber said the appeal court's decision brings Henley's plans to start a children's foundation ''one step closer to fruition.``
Henley said: ``This is a great day for the children.'' The Patricia Henley Foundation, to be funded with her court award, will educate children about the dangers of smoking and help children with smoking-related health problems, including asthma and lung problems. Henley grew up in San Francisco and now lives in Los Angeles.
Questions about lifting the limitations on filing product liability suits against tobacco companies and how to apply the law to smokers diagnosed the law was passed are at issue in five cases pending before the state Supreme Court. In one of those cases, also handled by Wartnick Chaber Harowitz & Tigerman, the plaintiff was diagnosed before 1998 when the ban on suits was lifted.
One of the appellate attorneys handling that case, Ted Pelletier of the Law Offices of Daniel Smith, said a decision by the Supreme Court in these cases is not expected until next year.
Pelletier also represented Henley before the Court of Appeal. In Henley's case, he said, ``Philip Morris tried to convince the jury and now the Court of Appeal that it should not be liable for its misconduct because the hazards of its product were supposedly common knowledge in the public.''
``The jury. and now this court, properly rejected that claim because decades of lies by Philip Morris prevented the public from knowing the truth,'' said Pelletier.