Philip Morris Plaintiff Takes Cut Verdict of $28 Mln
Los Angeles, Dec. 24 (Bloomberg) -- A smoker dying of cancer agreed to have her verdict against Philip Morris Cos. reduced to $28 million from the $28 billion that a jury awarded. The world's largest tobacco company has vowed to appeal any damages.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Warren Ettinger last week called the jury award ``legally excessive'' and gave Betty Bullock the option of accepting the lower amount or a new trial on punitive damages. Bullock's lawyer, Michael Piuze, said he still plans to appeal to reinstate the record $28 billion award.
Philip Morris is currently appealing six multimillion-dollar verdicts in California and Oregon, including a $3 billion award that was later cut to $100 million.
Ettinger's ``reasons for cutting this verdict into 1,000 pieces'' were ``legally insufficient,'' Piuze said.
Ettinger said he cut the $28 billion award, the largest ever to an individual plaintiff, because the ratio of punitive damages to compensatory damages was 33,000 to 1. A Los Angeles jury in October awarded Bullock $850,000 in compensatory damages and $28 billion in punitive damages.
Philip Morris wants the entire verdict reversed and a new trial. The New York-based company's offices were closed for Christmas Eve.
News of Bullock's decision was reported earlier today by financial news television network CNBC.
Bullock, 64, began smoking Marlboro and Benson & Hedges cigarettes when she was 17. The former nurse claimed Philip Morris's advertisements enticed her to start smoking and then the company misrepresented the risks when she could have quit with her health intact.
If Piuze loses the bid to reinstate the $28 billion verdict, Bullock will collect the $28 million, rather than face a new trial. The lower award would also be the basis for further appeals by Philip Morris.
Piuze also represented smoker Richard Boeken in the $3 billion verdict reduced to $100 million and said an appeals court will likely hear arguments in that case next year.
In the only tobacco verdict reviewed by a California appeals court, the court found a $26.5 million-dollar award to a longtime Marlboro smoker wasn't grossly excessive by constitutional standards. That case has been appealed to California's highest court.
Shares of Philip Morris rose 8 cents to $41.48 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The stock has lost 9.5 percent so far this year.