December 16, 2008

New York High Court Reverses $17.1 Million Punitive Damages Award Against Tobacco Companies

The New York State Court of Appeals issued an opinion today reversing a $20.5 million judgment against Brown & Williamson and Philip Morris. The judgment included $17.1 in punitive damages.

The plaintiffs claimed that the defendants' cigarettes were defectively designed because they should have contained lower levels of tar and nicotine. The Court of Appeals found that the plaintiffs failed to prove an element of their case:

We agree with the Appellate Division that plaintiffs failed to prove an essential element of their case: that regular cigarettes and "light" cigarettes have the same "utility." The only "utility" of a cigarette is to gratify smokers' desires for a certain experience, and plaintiffs did not prove, or try to prove, that light cigarettes perform this function as well as regular cigarettes.
This opinion comes on the heels of a decision earlier today reversing a $20 million punitive damages award against Brown & Williamson in Missouri.