Monday, April 4, 2005
Court of Appeal Upholds Punitive Damage Award of $50 Million in Tobacco Case for Second Time
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The family of a man who died of lung cancer after more than four decades of smoking Marlboro cigarettes is entitled to $50 million in punitive damages, this district’s Court of Appeal ruled Friday.
The amount is far less than the $3 billion—the largest jury verdict ever in favor of a single plaintiff, according to news accounts—awarded to Richard Boeken by a Los Angeles Superior Court jury in 2001. But the decision represents a rare defeat for Philip Morris, Inc., which persuaded the California Supreme Court to send the case back to Div. Four after its first decision.
Boeken testified that while he had conquered addictions to heroin, methadone and alcohol, his repeated attempts to quit smoking were unsuccessful. The cancer, jurors were told, had spread to his brain, back and lymph nodes.
Boeken, represented by attorney Michael Piuze, said he believed the company’s long-standing insistence that cigarettes are not addictive. Jurors agreed, awarding $3 billion in punitive damages and $5.5 million in back pay and general damages.
Judge Charles W. McCoy Jr. cut the award to $100 million, and the Court of Appeal cut that in half. But the same panel, which was instructed to reconsider its ruling in line with an intervening U.S. Supreme Court decision, said Friday that there was no need to cut the award further.
The Supreme Court, Justice J. Gary Hastings explained, said that punitive damages should generally not exceed four times compensatory damages. But the high court also recognized the need for exceptions in extraordinary cases, the justice said.
“[T]he extreme reprehensibility of increasing addictiveness by manipulating additives, gaining smokers by fraud, and marketing a product that is more dangerous than ordinary consumers expect, knowing that serious physical injury and death will result in many smokers, does justify a ratio of at least 9 to 1,” the justice wrote. “We round off the figure at $50 million.”
The case is Boeken v. Philip Morris, Inc., B152959.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company