- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 30, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Supreme Court said yesterday it will decide whether tobacco giant Philip Morris must pay nearly $80 million in damages to the family of a longtime smoker, a case that could shield companies from large jury awards if the company wins.

Lawyers on both sides of the issue said the case could go a long way toward determining whether the high court will place limits on punitive damage awards in a wide variety of cases.

A ruling could set a precedent for a range of civil cases, including those involving wrongdoing by a criminal defendant.

Meanwhile, the court passed up a chance yesterday to consider whether Yahoo could use U.S. courts to resolve an overseas dispute over the Internet company’s display of Nazi memorabilia.

A French judge had ordered the company to take Nazi paraphernalia off its site. The judge proposed a fine of $15 million for running an auction site in which French users could buy and sell memorabilia banned in France.

Yahoo’s lawyers contested the decision in federal court in California, not France, arguing that it violated the company’s constitutional free-speech rights.

A U.S. appeals court dismissed the company’s lawsuit earlier this year. But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did not resolve whether U.S. Internet companies are liable for damages in foreign courts for displaying content that is unlawful overseas but protected in the United States.

Although Yahoo lost in that ruling, it did not appeal. Instead, two French associations took the case to the Supreme Court, arguing that the ruling leaves the door open for Yahoo to try to use U.S. courts to avoid judgments by courts in other countries.

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