Page last updated at 16:30 GMT, Tuesday, 31 March 2009 17:30 UK

US court dismisses smoking appeal

Man smoking cigarette, file pic
The judgment has grown to more than $145m with interest

The US Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal by cigarette maker Philip Morris over a $79.5m (£56m) award to the widow of a long-time Oregon smoker.

The court upheld a 1999 ruling by the Oregon Supreme Court in favour of Mayola Williams.

Having heard arguments in December, the judges said in a one-sentence order that they were not passing judgement on the legal issues presented.

The judgement has grown to more than $145m with interest.

Jesse Williams died of lung cancer in 1997 having smoked for 40 years.

Ms Williams sued the cigarette manufacturer for fraud on behalf of her husband.

She said Philip Morris had committed a "massive market-directed fraud" for many years - misleading people into thinking cigarettes were not dangerous or addictive.

Ms Williams argued that her husband had believed tobacco companies when they said the product was safe.

The $79.5m judgement against the tobacco giant was issued by an Oregon jury in 1999 and came before the Supreme Court in 2003 and 2007.

On both those occasions it set aside the Williams award and ordered reconsideration.

In the latest case, Philip Morris was seeking a new trial or at least another hearing before the Oregon Supreme Court, arguing that some judges had ignored Supreme Court rulings restricting awards.

After the ruling, Murray Garnick, a spokesman for the agency representing Philip Morris USA, said: "While we had hoped for a different outcome, the Supreme Court has decided not to review a narrow procedural ruling by the state court.

"Today's decision does not impact the court's earlier decisions on punitive damages.

"Importantly, the Court did not disturb its 2007 Williams decision which held that a jury may not impose punitive damages for harm caused to anyone other than the plaintiff in a particular case," added Garnick.

A statement on behalf of Philip Morris said the Supreme Court's decision did not end the dispute, adding that Oregon state law requires 60% of any punitive damages be paid to the state, and that Oregon was party to an agreement precluding it from collecting any punitive damages from the company.

"If Philip Morris USA prevails, the company would be obligated to pay only the remaining 40% of the punitive damages awarded to the plaintiff in this case," the statement concluded.

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