Judge Reduces $150M Award Vs. Tobacco
PORTLAND, Ore. â€“â€“ A judge on Thursday reduced a landmark $150 million punitive award against Philip Morris to $100 million, saying the original amount was "grossly excessive."
Judge Roosevelt Robinson's ruling came six weeks after a jury ordered the tobacco company to pay $150 million in punitive damages to the estate of Michelle Schwarz, who died of lung cancer in 1999 at age 53.
Philip Morris said in a statement it "will mount a vigorous appeal" in hopes of overturning the entire award.
Lawyers for Schwarz's family had said the Salem, Ore., woman switched from a regular filtered cigarette because she believed the low-tar version would be better for her health.
In March, the jury agreed with the family's claim that Philip Morris falsely represented low-tar cigarettes as less dangerous than regular cigarettes. Besides the punitive award, the jury awarded $168,000 in compensatory damages to Schwarz's family.
It was the first verdict in a case based on allegations that low-tar cigarettes are just as dangerous as regular ones.
The tobacco company appealed, arguing the $150 million verdict "exceeds the amount necessary to punish and deter Philip Morris from the misconduct that the jury found."
In his ruling Thursday, Robinson said the new damage amount was "consistent with the attitude of the jury and it's still a whole lot of money."
Plaintiff's lawyer Richard Lane had contended the amount was within the limits of what a rational juror could decide, and represented only about 10 days' profits for the tobacco company.
"Punitive damages were designed with wealth in mind," he argued in court. "A fine of $100,000 ain't going to deter their conduct."