Submitted by Anne Landman on
Arguing an appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Jesse Williams, a African American man who died of lung cancer after smoking Marlboros for 42 years, Philip Morris (PM) lawyers likened the company to a civil rights victim. PM also compared itself to a death row inmate illegally denied due process, an indigent criminal denied adequate legal representation, and even the civil rights group NAACP. Mayola Williams, Jesse's wife, pursued the personal injury case on behalf of her husband after his death, arguing that PM is liable because of its longstanding misinformation campaigns designed to allay fears about smoking. In 1999, a Portland, Oregon jury ruled against PM and awarded $81 million to Williams' estate. After the original verdict, PM finally admitted publicly that smoking causes cancer, but the company continues to appeal the case. PM's now seeking a new trial and relief from the punitive damages award, whose value with interest has now climbed to over $140 million.