Thursday, February 11, 1999 Published at 07:56 GMT
Smoker wins $51m damages
Philip Morris is to appeal against the ruling
America's biggest tobacco company has been ordered to pay a California woman suffering from inoperable lung cancer more than $50m in punitive damages.
The total award was the largest to date in a tobacco liability lawsuit filed by an individual smoker. Other awards have been overturned on appeal.
Lawyers for Philip Morris immediately said they would appeal against the decision, which legal analysts say could open the way for a raft of new lawsuits against tobacco companies by individual sick smokers.
"It's obviously a verdict that is out of line with what almost every other jury has done with a case like this," defence lawyer William Ohlemeyer said afterwards.
"Sometimes juries unfortunately let their emotions or feelings of sympathy get in the way of some of the facts they have to decide."
The punitive damage award followed the jury's decision on Tuesday to give Henley $1.5 million in compensatory damages for the pain, suffering and medical costs she has incurred since being diagnosed with fatal lung cancer and quitting smoking in 1997.
Ms Henley, who started smoking at the age of 15, argued that she had become addicted to cigarettes long before tobacco companies began warning consumers about the health dangers of their products.
The case is the first in California since the repeal of a law which bans such law suits under the notion that the risks of smoking were well known.
The US tobacco industry came to a $206 billion legal settlement with 46 states last November but cigarette makers still face group lawsuits and individual lawsuits by smokers.
President Clinton wants the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to impose tough new curbs on the tobacco companies. However, he is likely to meet stiff opposition from members of Congress whose constituencies include tobacco farmers and producers.
Professor Ray Donnelly, founder and medical director of the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, said: "The Anti-Death from Smoking Lobby are giving two big cheers this morning.
"We'll give the other one when we know the result of the appeal by Philip Morris because the tobacco industry are past masters at using the legal system to escape their responsibilities by having these decisions overturned."