November 5, 2009

Oregon Supreme Court Hears Arguments In Another Tobacco Case with Huge Punitive Award

Oregon has been a major battleground in punitive damages litigation in recent years, a trend that shows no signs of letting up. As we noted last week, the Oregon Supreme Court has agreed to decide a certified question from the Ninth Circuit regarding the application of Oregon's split-recovery statute. Before the Oregon Supreme Court gets to that issue, however, it will decide Schwarz v. Philip Morris, described in this Statesman Journal article: State high court ponders award in cigarette lawsuit.

As the article reports, the jury in Schwarz awarded $150 million in punitive damages and $169,000 in compensatory damages. The trial court reduced the punitive damages to $100 million. The Court of Appeal reversed the punitive damages award in its entirety, ordering a new trial because the trial court had improperly refused Philip Morris's request to instruct the jury not to punish for harm to nonparties.

It will be interesting to see what the Oregon Supreme Court does with Schwarz. Remember, this is the same court that refused to order a new trial in Philip Morris v. Williams even after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the jury instructions in that case were inadequate to protect the defendant's due process rights.