On Remand from the U.S. Supreme Court, the Oregon Supreme Court Reinstates $75.9 Million Punitive Damages Award
Howard Bashman has a nice summary of why the Oregon Supreme Court was able to reinstate $75.9 million in punitive damages against Philip Morris. In short, Philip Morris had two claims on appeal. One rested on a procedural due process claim “asserting that a defendant’s due process rights are violated if a jury assesses punitive damages to punish a defendant for having caused harm to persons other than the plaintiff.” The other substantive due process claim argued “that the punitive damages award was unconstitutionally excessive because, among other reasons, it was nearly 100 times larger than the award of compensatory damages.” The Supreme Court ruled only on the procedural due process claim and that is why Oregon could reinstate the damages.
Specifically, Philip Morris used jury instructions that were objectionable. As Bashman explains, “Under Oregon law, a party has no right to have a trial court deliver its proposed jury instruction unless the instruction is entirely unobjectionable.” Here, the Oregon court found other errors and so reinstated the claim. Bashman goes into whether Philip Morris will have a good chance of another Supreme Court case on the substantive claim. His analysis makes sense but I leave it to others to go into that aspect of Supreme Court litigation tactics.
His last point is the one that may be of most use to attorneys “the reason Philip Morris failed to benefit from the U.S. Supreme Court’s punitive damages ruling in its favor in this very case is that the trial lawyers for Philip Morris tried to slant their proposed punitive damages instruction too far in the defendant’s favor.”