Phillip Morris U.S.A. v. Williams
549 U.S. 346, 127 S.Ct. 1057 (2007)
- Williams was a smoker. After
he died, his estate sued the cigarette maker (Phillip Morris) for
negligence and deceit.
- Williams argued that Phillip
Morris hid the fact that smoking was a health hazard.
- The Trail Court found for
Williams and awarded $821k in compensatory damages, and $79.5M in punitive
damages. Phillip Morris appealed.
- The punitive damages were in
part based on the idea that lots of other people out there had died from
smoking as well.
- Phillip Morris argued that
this was unfair because those other people (or their estates) could bring
lawsuits and get their own damages.
- The Oregon Supreme Court
affirmed. Phillip Morris appealed.
- The US Supreme Court
overturned the punitive damages award.
- The Court found that due
process bars punitive damages for
harm caused to individuals not involved in the litigation.
- Due process requires that Phillip Morris be allowed to
present a defense, but how could they defend themselves against someone
who wasn't even in court suing them?
- The Court found that it was
impossible to know exactly how many people were smoking because of
Phillip Morris' negligence. Therefore it was unfair to estimate a damage
- BMW of North America v.
Gore (517 U.S. 559 (1996)), suggested
a three-part test in determining whether a damage award violated due
- The degree of
reprehensibility of the defendant's conduct.
- The ratio or harm to the
compensatory damages awarded.
- A comparison of the punitive
damages award to civil or criminal penalties that could be imposed for