LOS ANGELES – A judge rejected a record $3 billion damage award against tobacco giant Philip Morris as excessive and offered a dying smoker $100 million instead — still the largest award in an individual lawsuit against a tobacco company.
Superior Court Judge Charles W. McCoy's ruling Thursday was in response to a motion by Philip Morris arguing that the punitive award was excessive. McCoy said the company will get a retrial on the punitive damages only if the cancer-stricken plaintiff won't accept the $100 million settlement.
His ruling left both sides unhappy and the tobacco giant promising an appeal.
McCoy denounced Philip Morris' actions as "reprehensible in every sense of the word, both legal and moral."
The firm "refused to accept even a scintilla of responsibility for the harm it has done," the judge wrote in a 27-page ruling.
But the punitive damages a jury granted to Richard Boeken, 56, in June were far above the usual ratio of punitive to compensatory damages, he ruled.
Boeken, a lifelong smoker with lung cancer, was given until Aug. 24 to agree in writing to accept the $100 million settlement. The judge upheld an additional $5.54 million in compensatory damages for Boeken's medical expenses and lost earnings.
Boeken's attorney, Michael J. Piuze, said "we are grateful for having been afforded a fair trial" but disagree with the judge's decision to reduce punitive damages.
"Philip Morris was fined one week's earnings," he said. "This is the same as a $1,000 fine against a $50,000-a-year wage earner. Philip Morris truly was not punished enough. The punishment did not fit the crime."
Philip Morris, which argued that it will likely face similar cases and could not pay $3 billion to every plaintiff, said the entire case would be appealed.
"This case became an exercise in punishing an unpopular industry," William S. Ohlemeyer, company vice president and associate general counsel, said in a statement. "Our appeal will request a complete reversal and retrial on multiple grounds, not the least of which was the passion and prejudice the jury displayed in reaching its verdict."
"It's simply not believable that anyone living in America for the past 40 years could testify under oath that they were unaware of the risks of smoking."
Boeken claimed in his lawsuit that he was the victim of a tobacco industry campaign that portrayed smoking as "cool" but concealed its dangers.
A jury found the company guilty of negligence, misrepresentation, fraud and selling a defective product.
McCoy said the punitive award was "legally excessive." The ratio of the punitive damages to compensatory damages was 540-1. The $100 million figure — four times what Philip Morris lawyers had recommended — would reduce the ratio to 18-1.
McCoy also reprimanded Philip Morris for going to "extraordinary lengths to hide its own scientific information" about the health risks of smoking.
It was the second California case in which a judge reduced a damage award against Philip Morris. A $51.5 million award made to lung cancer victim Patricia Henley in 1999 by a San Francisco jury was later reduced to $26.5 million. The case is under appeal.
Last year, another San Francisco jury awarded Leslie Whiteley $21.7 million in damages against Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. Whiteley, who had lung cancer, has since died. That case also remains on appeal.