Supreme Court Denies Review of $50M Award in Tobacco Case

March 21, 2006

The Supreme Court refused Monday to consider tossing out a $50 million (euro41 million) damage award to the family of a two-pack-a-day smoker who died of cancer.

Philip Morris USA, which controls about half the U.S. cigarette market, had asked the justices to declare the award unconstitutionally excessive and to rule that the company should have been shielded from some of the smoker’s claims.

Justices declined, without comment.

Richard Boeken, who initially won $3 billion (euro2.46 billion) in punitive damages, was 57 when he died in 2002, a year after a California jury found the tobacco company guilty of negligence, misrepresentation, fraud and selling a defective product.

The damage award was reduced to $100 million, and then cut in half by an appeals court.

Lawyers for Boeken’s family had asked justices to consider “Philip Morris’s immensely reprehensible, immensely profitable fraud scheme perpetuated for decades.”

Attorneys for the tobacco company asked the high court to use the case to clarify the formula for deciding punitive damages.

Three years ago the Supreme Court said that punitive damage awards should be “reasonable and proportionate to the amount of harm” someone suffers. Justices did not give a specific formula, and lower courts have been conflicted in handling follow-up cases.

Boeken’s case reveals a highly addicted smoker who took up the habit at 13 and tried everything from hypnosis to classes and nicotine gum in an effort to quit. He switched to Marlboro Lights in the belief they were safer. He smoked even in his final days, after his lung cancer spread to his brain. His mother, a smoker, also died of lung cancer.

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