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Ex-smoker wins $17.1 million damage award

Jury slaps tobacco giant Philip Morris USA


(CNN) -- A New York jury Monday awarded punitive damages of $17.1 million against Philip Morris USA in a case in which a 72-year-old woman said her lung cancer and neurological disorder were caused by smoking.

The punitive damage award is one of the largest such awards against the embattled tobacco industry.

The 72-year-old plaintiff, Norma Rose, suffers from lung cancer and a neurological disorder she claimed were caused by her smoking, a habit she picked up in her teens. She quit in 1993.

She alleged that cigarettes were a defective product design.

In the case, Rose v. American Tobacco et al., the jury returned on March 18 a $3.4 million award for compensatory damages against Philip Morris and American Tobacco Co., split evenly.

But the jurors assessed nothing against American Tobacco, instead assessing all punitive damages against Philip Morris.

"We're delighted that this jury has decided to hold Philip Morris accountable for its reprehensible misconduct," said Ed Sweda, a lawyer for the Tobacco Products Liability Project, based at Northeastern University School of Law, in Boston.

The tobacco firm vowed to appeal.

"Philip Morris USA will appeal this decision and believes the judgment should be overturned based on the facts presented at trial and the novel legal theory asserted in the case," said William S. Ohlemeyer, Philip Morris USA vice president and associate general counsel.

Ohlemeyer added that the punitive damage award was inconsistent with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in another case, in which the court limited the type of evidence that can be considered in a punitive damage proceeding and the amount of punitive damages that is permissible.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court denied an appeal by Philip Morris in another case, in which a jury awarded a San Francisco woman $16 million in punitive damages.

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