The Oregon Supreme Court for a third time has allowed a $79.5 million punitive-damages judgment against Philip Morris, an award twice struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, which suggested it was excessive.
The award was for the family of Jesse Williams, a former Portland janitor who started smoking during a 1950s Army hitch and died in 1997 six months after he was diagnosed with lung cancer. A jury in Portland made the award in 1999.
The Oregon Supreme Court said in Thursday's ruling that Philip Morris and the tobacco industry worked during the 1950s on a "program of disinformation" to create doubt about the dangers of smoking. Williams "learned from watching television that smoking did not cause lung cancer," but, once he came down with it, said the "cigarette people" had lied to him.
Thursday's ruling followed a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court last year to send the case back to Oregon.
The state Supreme Court was told to reconsider the award based on its decision about instructions for the trial jury that Philip Morris had proposed and the trial judge rejected.
The Oregon high court on Thursday said there were other defects in the instructions, violating Oregon law, that justified the trial judge's decision.
The Oregon court said that, for example, the instructions Philip Morris suggested would have forbidden the jury to consider the profits the tobacco company made through misconduct that was not illegal.
The Oregon Supreme court decision Thursday didn't take issue with the U.S. Supreme Court on another point it raised -- that Oregon courts couldn't allow jurors to use punitive damages to punish a defendant for harm done to anybody who wasn't part of the suit.
The instructions about punitive damages have been at the center of the legal battle over the suit brought by Williams' widow, Mayola.
Philip Morris will appeal Thursday's ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, the tobacco maker said. Business groups have watched the case closely as a precedent setter for large jury awards in product liability suits.
The Oregon high court made its first decision in 2002, refusing to hear an appeal from Philip Morris.