Calling Philip Morris' decades of lies and cover-ups about the dangers of its cigarettes "extremely reprehensible," the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles recently affirmed a $13.8 million verdict by a Los Angeles County jury that ruled in favor of a Newport Beach woman who smoked the company's products for 45 years.
Betty Bullock, who started smoking Marlboros at age 17 in 1956 and later switched to Benson & Hedges, quit in 2001 after she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She died two years later at age 64.
Her daughter, Jodie Bullock, later became the plaintiff in the case, which a jury last year decided in her favor. Jurors, who awarded the elder Bullock $850,000 in 2002 for medical costs, pain and suffering, added $28 billion in punitive damages for fraudulent conduct in what would become the largest individual verdict in the nation's history. However, the trial judge cut the award to $28 million, and it was reduced further following a U.S. Supreme Court decision setting constitutional limits on punitive awards against businesses.
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In a 2-1 ruling, the appellate panel found a $13.8 million verdict for Jodie Bullock was just about right. Philip Morris is expected to seek a review from the California Supreme Court, having previously argued that even that award violates the U.S. Supreme Court-imposed limits.
The appeals court majority ruled that beginning in the 1950s. Philip Morris demonstrated "extreme reprehensibility"' in denying the dangers of smoking its products to the public and government despite the company's own contradictory research. That and heavy marketing of its products to adults and youths, as well as Philip Morris' profitability over the course of its misconduct, justified the large award, Justice H. Walter Croskey wrote in the majority opinion.
Dissenting Justice Patti Kitching argued $850,000 was a substantial amount of compensation and the punitive damages should be no more than nine times that sum, or $7.65 million.