A Superior Court jury awarded $3 billion in punitive damages and $5.5 million in compensatory damages to cancer-stricken plaintiff Richard Boeken and against Philip Morris, the defendant in this case.
It is the largest judgment against a cigarette maker in a lawsuit brought by an individual and the judgment could trigger a flood of lawsuits.
However, appeals from the verdict are likely to take much longer than the one year doctors have given Boeken to live and legal experts say the award will be greatly reduced, if not reversed.
Tom Harrison, publisher of Lawyers Weekly USA, believes that Philip Morris should get ready for more litigation because people's anger against tobacco companies is growing the way it built up against sexual harassment, health maintenance organizations and poorly run nursing homes.
"Big verdicts always produce more lawsuits," he added, "Lawyers read big verdicts as symbols that jurors can get angry about a certain thing" and that "When I started writing about tobacco cases in 1984, the industry was thought to be impregnable. Societal attitudes toward smoking have gone from complete acceptance to skepticism to concern to anger."
Also, lawyers will be drawn to such lawsuits because Piuze and the team that won a record $145 billion award in a class-action tobacco case in Florida last year were new to tobacco litigation. "It's now becoming a run-of-the-mill personal injury action," Harrison said.
Other legal scholars disagree. Deborah Hensler, a professor at Stanford Law School, said she is not convinced that Wednesday's verdict will lead to more tobacco suits, but it could lead to higher jury awards.
According to Richard Daynard, a law professor and chairman of the Tobacco Products Liability Project at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, there have been six earlier tobacco cases in which plaintiffs won individual awards since the mid-1990s, and only one of those plaintiffs has actually received any money.