Philip Morris USA v. Williams
SCOTUS - 2007 (127 S.Ct. 1057)
- P's husband was 3 pack a day smoker for 50 years, unable to quit despite warnings during his later smoking years.
- P's husband was diagnosed with lung cancer and died 6 months later.
- P argued that D hid their research from the public and neglected to tell public about the health risks.
- Lower court found D liable for fraud and negligent practices, awarded $821k compensatory (reduced to $500k per OR state law), $79.5M punitive (reduced by trial judge to $32M for being excessive under federal standards.
- OR CoA reinstated the $79.5M punitive award
- OR Supreme Court affirmed.
- SCOTUS vacated the award, but OR Supreme Court did not change the amount.
- Can a D be punished for harming nonparty victims?
- A D cannot be directly punished for harming nonparty victims through punitive damages.
- Courts must protect against the risk that juries might be confused about using knowledge of nonparty victims to punish the D instead of using such knowledge only for the rubric of reprehensibility.
- DP forbids a state to use punitive damage awards to punish a defendant for injury that it inflicts upon nonparties or strangers to the litigation.
- Would add a standardless dimension to the punitive damages equation, leading juries to speculate.
- How many victims?
- How seriously were they injured?
- It makes no sense to use third party harm to assess reprehensibility of D's conduct while not using it to punish D directly.
- Compensatory damages to nonparties would violate DP, but punitive damages are intended to punish the D.
- The Constitution does not constrain the size of punitive damages awards.