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Saturday, 5 October, 2002, 04:15 GMT 05:15 UK
Cigarette giant to fight ruling
Betty Bullock with granddaughter Jacqueline and daughter Jodie
Betty Bullock (l) started smoking at the age of 17
Cigarette giant Philip Morris is to appeal against a Californian court order to pay out an unprecedented $28bn (17bn) in punitive damages to a cancer-stricken smoker.


This jury should have focused on what the plaintiff knew about the health risks of smoking

Philip Morris lawyer
Philip Morris said it would ask the Californian court to order a new trial or - if that is denied - a reduction in the size of the award.

The award, the biggest ever in an individual smoking-related lawsuit, comes on top of an initial $850,000 payout intended to compensate the plaintiff - a 64-year-old woman suffering from lung cancer - for her illness.

The verdict wiped 6% off Philip Morris' share price, and dragged other tobacco stocks lower in sympathy.

The BBC's Patrick O'Connell says this suggests that investors are not yet as convinced as lawyers for Philip Morris that this award, and indeed the trial itself, can be overturned.

Cover-up

Lawyers for the plaintiff argued in court that the tobacco giant had deliberately concealed evidence about the links between smoking and cancer.

But Philip Morris' legal team said the company should not be blamed for her personal decision to keep on smoking.

"This jury should have focused on what the plaintiff knew about the health risks of smoking, and whether anything the company ever said or did improperly influenced her decision to smoke or not to quit," said Philip Morris lawyer William Ohlemeyer.

"Testimony during the trial showed that Ms Bullock was aware of the health risks of smoking and was warned repeatedly of those risks by her doctors over four decades, and her daughter also urged her to quit," he said.

The plaintiff, Betty Bullock, smoked from the age of 17 until she was diagnosed with cancer in February last year.

The disease has since spread to her liver. It is estimated that she has just months to live.

Record breaker

The punitive damages bill dwarfs an earlier $3bn award set at a separate tobacco trial in June last year.

That award was later reduced to $100m.

Philip Morris has said that the award to Ms Bullock breaches US Supreme Court guidelines which limit punitive damages to four times the size of the compensatory damages.

If she were to receive the money, Ms Bullock would become one of the richest people in America.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Patrick O'Connell
"A record punishment of $28 billion"
Counsel for Philip Morris William Ohlemeyer
"We'll ask the trial judge to reduce this award"
FOREST's Simon Clark
"If you go back to the Second World War cigarettes were known as 'coffin nails'"
See also:

27 Sep 02 | Business
10 Aug 01 | Business
07 Jun 01 | Americas
17 Jul 01 | Business
07 Jun 01 | Business
07 Jun 01 | Business
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