August 25, 2009

L.A. Jury Awards $13.8 Million in Punitive Damages to Smoker's Daughter in Bullock Retrial

Bloomberg reports that a Los Angeles jury has awarded $13.8 million in punitive damages in the retrial of Bullock v. Philip Morris. The compensatory damages were $850,000.

As readers of this blog may recall, last year the Court of Appeal reversed a $28 million punitive damages award in this case and ordered a retrial on punitive damages. We blogged quite a bit about that decision and the subsequent proceedings before the California Supreme Court. In a nutshell, the Court of Appeal reversed because the trial court improperly refused a defense request for an instruction telling the jury not to punish for harm to others (i.e., an instruction based on Philip Morris v. Williams.)

The jury in the first trial actually awarded $28 billion in punitive damages, resulting in the second largest judgment in U.S. history. The trial court, however, cut that down to $28 million on posttrial motions. On retrial, plaintiffs' lawyer Michael Piuze again asked the jury to award "billions," but instead he got a little less than half of the previous $28 million award. Still a lot of money, but surely a disappointment to Piuze. According to Bloomberg, one of the dissenting jurors wanted to award $500 million. As it is, the $13.8 million award is more than 16 times higher than the actual damages.