Citizens for Clean Air and Clean Lungs

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 were dismissed.

In 1997, California joined other states in suing the tobacco industry, and the state Legislature responded to criticism of the ban by repealing it.

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 on appeal.

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 compensatory damages.

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 TODAY, (2/11/99)
"Jury Awards Ex-Smoker $51.5M In Tobacco Suit", p. A3 ASSOCIATED PRESS, (2/11/99)
"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 younger.

The environment the cases are being tried in has changed, partly because of the decline in the social acceptability of smoking" among younger people.

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", Michael Warren
$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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