(CN) – Philip Morris Inc. is entitled to a new trial to revisit the $150 million punitive damages award to the husband of a smoker who died at the age of 53, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled.
The tobacco company lost a lawsuit to the estate of Michelle Schwarz. She started smoking in 1964 at the age of 18. She switched to “low-tar” Merit cigarettes in 1976 after several unsuccessful attempts to quit smoking.
After changing to the Merit cigarettes, Schwartz altered her smoking style. She took longer puffs and held the smoke longer in her lungs. She contracted lung cancer, which produced the brain tumor that took her life.
The trial court ruled in Schwartz’ favor. It awarded her estate $168,514 in economic and non-economic damages, and $150 million in punitive damages.
However, the court of appeals overturned the award, ruling that the jury was punishing Philip Morris “for the impact of its conduct on individuals in other states.”
Justice Martha Lee Walters upheld the court of appeals’ ruling.
“The jury could have understood the uniform jury instruction to permit it to use evidence of harm to other in arriving at its punitive damages verdict, and without an explicit statement of the impermissible use of that evidence … the instruction was incomplete and unclear,” she wrote.
Walters ordered a new trial on the issue of punitive damages.