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Supreme Court Limits Juries' Power to Punish Tobacco Companies


Jurors in an individual case against a tobacco company were wrong to assess a large punitive-damages award to punish the firm for harming people who were not parties to the lawsuit, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision.

Reuters reported Feb. 20 that the high court set aside a $79.5-million judgment against Philip Morris in a case filed by the wife of an Oregon man who died of lung cancer. The court said that the damages should have been limited to compensation to plaintiff Mayola Williams for the loss of her husband.

The ruling was seen as a victory for big corporations in general, which have long sought to limit punitive-damages awards in liability cases.

Writing for the majority, Justice Stephen Breyer said that awards based on the jury's desire to punish companies for their broader actions violated constitutional due-process rights by taking property from the defendant.

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