SALEM, Ore. – A $79.5 million punitive damages award to the family of an Oregon smoker who died of lung cancer isn't excessive, given the "reprehensible" conduct of tobacco giant Philip Morris in marketing cigarettes to the public, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The decision upholds a lower court ruling and responds to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that asked Oregon courts to consider whether the award in the lawsuit against Philip Morris was excessive.
The state Supreme Court's answer was: No, not excessive, given "such extreme and outrageous circumstances."
The decision upholds an award of $79.5 million in punitive damages to the family of Jesse D. Williams, a janitor who died in 1997 of lung cancer at the age of 67.
The man's family also got $500,000 in non-economic damages, to compensate for pain and suffering. The award came from a Multnomah County jury in 1999 and has been in dispute since.
In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered Oregon courts to review the award to ensure it was not unconstitutionally excessive under new standards for punitive damages adopted by the high court.
A state appeals court said in 2004 that the award wasn't excessive, and the state Supreme Court decision upholds that decision.