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Scotus-PhilipMorris 2ndLd 02-20

2. Washington

Tobacco award thrown out

The Supreme Court threw out a $79.5 million punitive damages award to a smoker’s widow today, a boon to businesses seeking stricter limits on big-dollar jury verdicts.

The 5-4 ruling was a victory for Altria Group Inc.’s Philip Morris USA, which contested an Oregon Supreme Court decision upholding the verdict.

In the majority opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer, the court said the verdict could not stand because the jury in the case was not instructed that it could punish Philip Morris only for the harm done to the plaintiff, not to other smokers whose cases were not before it. States must "provide assurances that juries are not asking the wrong question ... seeking, not simply to determine reprehensibility, but also to punish for harm caused strangers," Breyer said.

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The decision did not address whether the size of the award was constitutionally excessive, as Philip Morris had asked.

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