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Friday, 10 August, 2001, 03:36 GMT 04:36 UK
Court cuts record tobacco damages
Philip Morris still said it would appeal against verdict
A California judge has slashed to $100m from $3bn a damages award against tobacco giant Philip Morris in a claim filed by a smoker dying of lung cancer.

Superior Court Judge Charles McCoy said that the original damages verdict against the firm was too high, setting an unfair precedent for future claims.

But Philip Morris still said it would appeal against the "grossly excessive" verdict.

Richard Boeken and his young son
Richard Boeken has terminal cancer
"Our appeal will request a complete reversal and retrial on multiple grounds, not the least of which was the passion and prejudice the jury displayed in reaching its verdict," the firm's lawyer said in a statement.

The lawyer for Richard Boeken, the plaintiff, said a decision on whether or not to accept the reduced damages had not been made.

In June, a jury in Los Angeles found Philip Morris liable for concealing the health dangers of cigarettes, awarding Mr Boeken $5.5m in compensatory damages and $3bn in punitive damages.

The award was the highest ever sum granted to an individual plaintiff.

The firm not only quibbled with the level of damages, but argued that the verdict itself should be thrown out because there was no direct evidence that Mr Boeken followed the tobacco industry's advice.

Wall Street hailed this latest ruling as a victory for Philip Morris and a first step in its bid to have the entire award thrown out on appeal.

"The concern was with $3bn, the flood gates were open," said Bonnie Herzog, analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston. "This helps to alleviate some of that concern."

Claims pile up

Since the mid-1990s, there have been six similar cases where individuals have won compensation from a tobacco company.

But only one has resulted in someone actually receiving the money. He was a 70-year-old ex-smoker who received $1.1m from the Brown & Williamson tobacco company.

Philip Morris is also involved in the biggest such case brought by smokers against tobacco companies.

Last July, a jury in Florida returned a historic punitive damage award of $145bn in a class action lawsuit on behalf of all Florida's smokers.

The case is pending a review by the US Supreme Court.

The BBC's David Willis in Los Angeles
"Philip Morris had asked for a re-trial"
See also:

07 Jun 01 | Americas
US smoker wins billions in damages
07 Jun 01 | Business
What now for Big Tobacco?
07 Jun 01 | Business
Q&A: Tobacco litigation
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