Big tobacco coughs up

A tobacco company will have to pay US $81 million to the family of a man who died of lung cancer

Published: Saturday 15 May 1999

a state jury in Portland, Oregon, usa, has ordered tobacco giant Philip Morris Co to pay us $81 million to the family of a man who smoked Marlboro cigarettes for four decades before he died. The man, Jesse Williams, died in 1997, five months after he was diagnosed with lung cancer.

His family has been awarded us $79.5 million in punitive damages and us $1.6 million in compensatory damages. This is the largest compensation in a smoking-related lawsuit. Williams' wife said her husband's dying wish was that "he wanted to make cigarette companies stop lying about the health problems of smokers".

In another case, a jury in San Francisco, California, instructed Philip Morris to pay a smoker us $51 million, of which us $50 million are for punitive damages. Analysts believe that these verdicts could indicate a shift in the tobacco industry's legal fortunes. They feel that a key factor which could have determined the jury's decisions may be the public's constant attack on cigarette makers in recent years. Analysts say that this is reflected in both cases against Philip Morris, in which the jury called for large punitive damages.

The tobacco industry had drawn up a settlement of us $206 billion with 46 states in 1998. Under the agreement, lawsuits brought by the states to recover health expenses related to smoking would be resolved.

But individuals and groups of smokers can still sue. The Oregon verdict suggests that the industry's legal worries have not been put to rest, said Gary Black, a tobacco industry analyst with Sanford C Bernstein & Co in New York.

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