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Plaintiff in Philip Morris case accepts reduced reward

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Betty Bullock -- the plaintiff who won a decision against Philip Morris last fall -- will accept the recently reduced reward of $28 million.

"Ms. Bullock is very ill. She doesn't want to fight anymore, She has agreed to accept the reduced amount of $28 million," her attorney Michael Piuze (pron: "pews") said Tuesday.

Bullock had until Friday to accept the reduced reward or the judge said he would order a new trial.

A Philip Morris spokesperson told CNNfn the company stands by its decision to appeal and Bullock's lawyer says he will challenge that appeal.

"We plan on cross-appealing because the judge's reasoning for reducing the judgment to this amount was legally insufficient," Piuze said.

Earlier this month, a Los Angeles judge reduced a $28 billion verdict against cigarette-maker Philip Morris -- the largest single judgment ever lodged against the tobacco giant -- to $28 million.

In October, a jury awarded plaintiff the 64-year-old Bullock, who is dying of lung cancer, $850,000 in compensatory damages and $28 billion in punitive damages after finding that Philip Morris was guilty of fraud and negligence for failing to warn her of the risks of smoking.

In reducing the amount, Judge Warren Ettinger ruled that there was sufficient evidence to support the jury's verdict in the case, but he agreed with Philip Morris' contention that the award was excessive.

Betty Bullock shown holding holding grandchild Jacqueline Goldstein.
Betty Bullock shown holding holding grandchild Jacqueline Goldstein.

"Having considered the relationship between the punitive damages awarded to the injuries suffered by this plaintiff, the court finds that the jury's punitive damage award is legally excessive," the judge wrote in his decision.

Philip Morris said at the time it would appeal the reduced award and the verdict itself. The company contended even the new award amount is still excessive.

In a statement, the company said its appeal will be based on improper jury instruction and an improper closing argument by the plaintiff's attorney, which it claims urged the jury to nullify the law.

"It was clear that this jury was intent on sending the tobacco industry a message. The jury may believe there should be additional control over an industry that makes and markets a unique and inherently dangerous product," said Philip Morris attorney William S. Ohlemeyer in the statement.

The Philip Morris statement said that even with the reduction in the amount of the award, it still exceeds the Supreme Court has decided is fair.

Piuze said he was "extremely disappointed" in the judge's reduction of the award.

"Philip Morris earns over $14 million per day from selling cigarettes in the United States. Judge Ettinger has fined Phillip Morris two days of its earnings. In California, a motorist who drives in the carpool lane without any passengers is fined $271, which is two days' pay for the average Californian. If two days' pay is the proper fine for a traffic violation, then two days' pay is not the proper fine for (Philip Morris') role in killing so many Americans over a 50-year period. This is not a real punishment for Phillip Morris," he said.

Richard Daynard of Northeastern University Law School in Boston said in October that the jury in the case heard a familiar argument from the plaintiff's lawyer.

Daynard runs the Tobacco Products Liability Project, which he described as a public interest advocacy project designed to encourage lawsuits against the tobacco industry.

Bullock's lawyer built his case around well-publicized denials from the tobacco industry that smoking causes lung cancer and the industry's failure to follow through on promises of more research into the issue, Daynard said.

He predicted in October that the trial judge would reduce the $28 billion judgment, but would allow at least $100 million in damages.

Last year, a California state judge ruled that a $3 billion verdict against Philip Morris was excessive, and cut it to $100 million. That case, which was brought by the same plaintiff's attorney, is still in the appeal process.

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