- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2007

3:24 p.m.

The Supreme Court today overturned a $79.5 million award to the widow of a smoker, putting in doubt the prospects of future high-dollar jury awards against big businesses.

The high court ruled 5-4 in favor of Altria Group Inc., the parent company of Philip Morris USA and Kraft Foods Inc., which contested an Oregon Supreme Court verdict.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer, writing for the majority, said the jury in Oregon could not take into consideration harm done by cigarettes to other smokers whose cases were not brought before a court. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr., Anthony M. Kennedy and David H. Souter made up the rest of the majority.

Mayola Williams sued Philip Morris for fraud on behalf of her husband, a two-pack-a-day smoker for 45 years, who died of lung cancer nine years ago.

The day was not a total success for cigarette makers, however, as the high court turned down the industry’s bid to overturn a 75-cent-per-pack fee on Minnesota residents the state imposed to help pay for health care costs.

The justices, without comment, rejected industry claims that the tax violates the 1998 settlement between the state and the nation’s largest cigarette makers.

Reynolds American Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Loews Corp.’s Lorillard Tobacco Co. joined Philip Morris’ challenge to the fee.

Slightly more than one-fifth of U.S. adults smoked cigarettes in 2005, down from 25 percent of the country’s adults a decade ago. The tobacco industry is still paying states a total of $200 billion after a 1998 settlement.

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