United States Supreme Court to Review Punitive Damage Award Against Philip Morris in Oregon Smoker Case for Third Time

We previously blogged about the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in Philip Morris v. Williams addressing the propriety of a $79.5M punitive damage award to the family of a long-time Oregon smoker. Procedurally, the U.S. Supreme Court’s earlier decision remanded the case back to the Oregon Supreme Court to reconsider and reassess its earlier holding that due process did not require a trial court to give a particular proposed jury instruction requested by the defendant; namely, to instruct the jury that it was NOT to use an award of punitive damages to punish a defendant for harms to persons who were not parties to the litigation.

On January 31, 2008, the Oregon Supreme Court issued a new opinion reconsidering and reassessing the issue posed by the U.S. Supreme Court, and concluded that the proposed jury instruction proposed by the defendant was flawed for other reasons that it did not identify in its earlier opinion. It therefore reaffirmed its prior conclusion that the trial court did not err in refusing to give the instruction.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will review the $79.5 million punitive damages judgment against Philip Morris for the third time. This time around, the justices will consider only whether the Oregon Supreme Court in essence ignored the Court’s earlier ruling, not whether the amount of the judgment is constitutionally permissible.

Arguments are scheduled for the fall. We will keep our readers apprised of new developments in the case.