Tobacco verdict: $3 billion hammer blow to Philip Morris in largest ever individual damages

Thursday 07 June 2001

Late News: 7 June 2001 00:20

Tobacco verdict: $3 billion hammer blow for Philip Morris


A jury in Los Angeles, California has found that Philip Morris is liable for the lung cancer that will kill plaintiff Richard Boeken.  The jury awarded Mr. Boeken $5.54 million in compensatory and $3 billion in punitive damages. It is the biggest verdict to date in an individual tobacco case.


Clive Bates, Director of Action on Smoking and Health said:”The award of $3 billion in punitive damages is an awesome judgement on the conduct of Big Tobacco and a mighty hammer blow against Philip Morris.  I think this will inspire blind terror in the tobacco industry world wide”.


The award to an individual comes on top of over $200 billion to be paid to States for settlement of health care cost recovery claims and agiant $155 billion award in a Florida Class action (Engle).


“The idea of punitive damages is to come up with a sum that penalises the company responsible for the damage – that’s why the sums are so large. Philip Morris could easily afford a few million here and there to settle claims, but they only feel it when the damages are measured in billions.” said Bates.


“In cases like this, people often comment that the smokers should take more responsibility.  In fact, the contributory negligence of the smoker is usually recognised, but what is under scrutiny in the court is the behaviour of the tobacco company.  Given their history of recruiting and addicting teenagers and lying about the health effects for 40 years, the US juries are starting to hold them accountable for the harm caused by their product.”


“Every time there is a verdict like this, the prospect for litigation in the UK and in other jurisdictions outside the US grows more promising.” said Bates “But our legal system is much less favourable to this type of litigation.  Because we don’t have the same concept of punitive damages, the incentives for lawyers to take on cases on no-win no-fee agreements are less attractive.  At the same time,  the risks to smokers are greater , because they would be bankrupted by having to pay the tobacco company’s costs if they lose.”


In March 1999 a case involving 50 smokers with lung cancer was ended in the UK when the judge ruled that they had not made their claims within the statutory three years allowed between diagnosis and commencing legal action. The case ended on a technical legal point – the Statute of Limitations – without the substantive arguments and evidence being heard in court.


Background from US Tobacco Products Liability Project


Contact: Clive Bates, 020 7739 5902 (w) 077 6879 1237 (mobile)