California Smoker Wins $1.5 Million in Compensatory and $51.5 million in Punitive Damages
Patricia Henley's case was the first since the repeal of a 1987 tort
reform law that banned lawsuits by cigarette smokers on the basis that the
risks of smoking were well known. Dozens of cases were pending at the time
In 1997, California joined other states in suing the tobacco industry,
and the state Legislature responded to criticism of the ban by repealing
The tobacco industry came to a $206 billion legal settlement with states in November but cigarette makers still face class action lawsuits and individual lawsuits by smokers.
Ms. Henley, 52, of Los Angeles, had been smoking since age 15. She quit
in 1997 after suffering coughing fits and other health problems. She was
diagnosed a year ago with inoperable cancer in her chest.
She sued Philip Morris Cos., claiming there were no warnings on cigarettes
when she began smoking more than three decades ago and that major tobacco
companies failed to warn that smokers may be unable to give up the habit.
Her lawsuit included charges of negligence, strict liability and fraud.
Philip Morris claimed it was not liable for Ms. Henley's illness since
she understood and assumed the risks of smoking.
The Henley case was at least the fourth time a jury in a tobacco liability
case awarded compensatory damages. The first three cases were overturned
- Jury Orders
Philip Morris To Pay $50 Million To Ex-Smoker
- On February 10,
1999, a jury in San Francisco ordered Philip Morris to pay $50 million
in punitive damages to former smoker Patricia Henley, the largest jury
verdict ever against a tobacco company.
- On February 9th, the same jury awarded the plaintiff $1.5 million in
Henley, who has inoperable lung cancer, argued that she became hooked
on cigarettes when she was 15, three years before the government passed
the cigarette labeling act, and without a warning from the company that
she may be unable to quit.
Lawyers for the plaintiff had asked for $15 million in punitive damages
for the company's negligence and fraud, but the jury added another $35 million.
"Our decision was based on a lot of evidence, the suppression of known
facts by Philip Morris. They had a lot of information they just didn't give
out," stated jury foreman George Loudis.
Analysts believe yesterday's verdict is likely to entice prospective
plaintiffs to bring similar suits against the industry. "Tobacco litigation
is alive and well," said Edward Sweda of the Tobacco Products Liability
Project at Northeastern University.
Patricia Henley has pledged to donate the money she receives to help
educate children on the dangers of smoking. "I feel wonderful. This
is a great day for the children," stated Henley.
- Source(s): WALL STREET JOURNAL, (2/11/99) "Jury Awards $50 Million
To Ex-Smoker", Milo Geyelin, p. A3 NEW YORK TIMES, (2/11/99)
- "$51 Million Verdict Awarded To Smoker Is Biggest Of Its Kind",
Barry Meier, p. A1 WASHINGTON POST, (2/11/99)
- "Jury Awards Ex-Smoker $51.5 Million", John Schwartz, p.
A2 REUTERS, (2/11/99)
- "Street Sees Big Tobacco Stocks Falling After Ruling" USA
- "Jury Awards Ex-Smoker $51.5M In Tobacco Suit", p. A3 ASSOCIATED
- "Smoker Awarded $50M In Damages", Kim Curtis
- Jurors Say
Internal Documents Key To Verdict; Industry Considers Defense Shift
- Several of the jurors who awarded Patricia Henley $51.5 million in
her lawsuit against Philip Morris said the industry documents introduced
during the trial by Henley's lawyers were key to their decision.
"With publicity and advertising, they really tried to downplay it
as a controversy between the Surgeon General and responsible medical people,"
said one juror. "It all seemed kind of deceiving, and they were kind
of saying, 'Oh, this is just business.'"
Other jurors were struck by documents that showed Philip Morris employees
and Philip Morris lawyers describing the addictive nature of nicotine and
the cancer risks of smoking.
Even though juror May Ulloa Charbonneau knew cigarettes were harmful
before the trial, she wasn't "angry" at the industry until "I
learned everything that they had done. They're producing a deadly product."
While tobacco industry lawyers believe that the $50 million in punitive
damages will be reduced, if not vacated, they are considering a change in
their long-successful defense strategy. William Ohlemeyer, the lawyer who
argued the case on behalf of Philip Morris, says demographics and changing
attitudes about smoking are becoming a problem. "The jury pool is getting
The environment the cases are being tried in has changed, partly because
of the decline in the social acceptability of smoking" among younger
- Source(s): NEW YORK TIMES, (2/12/99) "Cigarette Producers Face
A Fresh Threat In Individuals' Suits", Barry Meier, p. A1
- WALL STREET JOURNAL, (2/12/99) "Tobacco Industry To Rethink Its
Defense", Suein Hwang and Milo Geyelin, p. B14
- ASSOCIATED PRESS, (2/12/99) "More Anti-Tobacco Verdicts Forseen",
- $51.5M Judgment May Send Big Tobacco Looking For Immunity
- According to an editorial in the NEW YORK TIMES, the $51.5 million
judgment on February 10, 1999 against Philip Morris may send Big Tobacco
back to Congress looking for liability protection: "The prospect of
fighting endless private and Federal lawsuits could cause the industry
to seek a deal with Congress.
Such a deal could settle the potentially enormous Federal claims, but
it must not give the industry immunity from other lawsuits, which remain
a useful hammer to compel responsible behavior...
Last year's tobacco bill would have granted the Food and Drug Administration
authority to regulate tobacco and nicotine, greatly restricted marketing
practices that attract teen-age smokers and required the industry to pay
penalties if youth smoking rates do not go down in the next decade. Those
elements ought to be part of any new legislative proposal."
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