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Eric Turkewitz

Court Tosses Philip Morris Verdict, And Further Confuses Punitive Damages Issue

Cross-posted from NY Personal Injury Law Blog

The Supreme Court came down with a split decision on punitive damages today, avoiding a determination in a highly watched case on the penultimate issue of "How much is too much." In doing so, however, they tossed out the verdict based on the jury instructions, since the jury was told it could base its determination on how non-litigants had also been harmed. The case was decided 5-4.

That part of the decision avoiding the issue of "excessive damages" was not unexpected, as I wrote a few months ago (US Supreme Court Hears Punitive Damages Case, Again), as the justices fretted over the jury instructions.

The Oregon case, Williams v. Philip Morris (and now Philip Morris v. Williams), had resulted in an $800,000 compensatory award and a $79.5M punitive award.

This case has been an extraordinary odyssey that has taken it up to the Supreme Court twice on the subject. It goes something like this:

* Jury verdict for $800,000 in compensatory damages and $79.5M in punitive damages;
* Punitive damages reduced by trial court to $32M;
* Punitive damage award reinstated by Oregon Court of Appeals;
* Affirmed by Oregon Supreme Court;
* Remanded by US Supreme Court to decide punitive damages issue in light of its new ruling in State Farm v
Campbell;
* Affirmed again by Oregon Court of Appeals;
* Affirmed again by Oregon Supreme Court;
* Now vacated by U.S. Supreme Court based on the jury instructions.

Keep reading on NY Personal Injury Law Blog

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Posted at 2:48 PM, Feb 20, 2007 in
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