The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the widow of a smoker could keep $10 million in punitive damages she won in a trial against Philip Morris, saying a 1998 settlement involving the state’s attorney general doesn’t bar the award.
In a question reviewed de novo, the state high court said the widow, Pamela Laramie, can keep the punitive damages she won in a wrongful-death case against Philip Morris.
The cigarette company had argued that a 1998 settlement it reached with Massachusetts’ attorney general precluded punitive damages for Laramie. But the high court said the cases are completely different.
The attorney general’s claims were brought under consumer protection law, and that suit sought to redress excess medical costs the state incurred because of cigarette smoking.
The 1998 consent decree required Philip Morris to pay hundreds of millions to the state every year in perpetuity.
Laramie was also awarded $11 million in compensatory damages, which were not at issue in this appeal.
In May, members of the judicial panel noted that the AG pact was meant to settle the public costs and Medicaid dollars poured into tobacco-related issues.
The cigarette maker had cited in its appeal various alleged mistakes by the lower court judge and evidentiary issues.
Philip Morris said Laramie’s attorneys made inflammatory statements during closing arguments, such as accusing the company of deliberately creating “a whole new different kind of cancer” — adenocarcinoma — because “regular lung cancer wasn’t good enough.”
The high court said that this statement “should not have been made” but didn’t change the outcome of the trial.