In Philip Morris USA v. Williams, the Supreme Court has dismissed the appeal as “improvidently granted” in a long struggle with the Oregon Supreme Court. The Court had previously sent the case back twice to tell the Oregon court to review its huge punitive award. In this staring contest, the U.S. Supreme Court just blinked after the Oregon Supreme Court refused to consider the issues sent back on remand — instead upholding its $79.5 million punitive award million award on state grounds. With interest, that award may have doubled.
It is rare to see this type of toe-to-toe fight between the highest courts of a state and the federal system. The Oregon Supreme Court simply ended the matter by emphasizing the state law determination related to an error tied to Philip Morris in seeking a jury instruction.
The case was brought by Mayola Williams who lost her husband, Jesse, in March 1997 from cancer after years of smoking Marlboro cigarettes, one of Philip Morris’s brands. She was awarded $821,485.50 in compensatory damages and punitive damages worth $79.5 million. The compensatory award was later reduced to $521,485 and the punitive award to $32 million, but the appellate court restored the full award.
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