UPDATE: This statement just in from the Williams family, via Charles Tauman. a member of the plaintiff's legal team: "The Williams family, who fought to hold the cigarette-maker accountable for the untimely death of their husband and father, Jesse Williams, is appreciative the Oregon courts upheld the rule of law and corporate responsibility. Philip Morris is expected to continue to appeal this case, but the Williams family is confident that justice will continue to prevail."
For further analysis of the Oregon Supreme Court ruling, Howard Bashman's lengthy post at the How Appealing blog is a must-read.
When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled nearly a year ago in the punitive damages case Philip Morris v. Williams, the decision was touted as a victory for business defendants because it narrowed the grounds on which juries could award punitive damages. Jurors could no longer punish businesses for injuries caused to third parties, or "strangers to the litigation." The 5-4 decision returned the case to the Oregon Supreme Court for further proceedings, but it seemed to spell the end to a $79 million verdict against Philip Morris won by Mayola Williams, widow of a lifelong smoker who died of lung cancer.
The Oregon Supreme Court today issued its decision upholding the original damage award in spite of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The ruling, authored by Justice W. Michael Gillette -- who wrote the original Oregon deicison as well -- focused on a jury instruction that was the subject of the Philip Morris appeal. The tobacco company faulted the trial judge for failing to give a jury instruction that would have forbidden punishing the company for injury to non-parties. Gillette's decision today said the jury instruction was flawed for a separate set of reasons under state law, so that the judge's failure to give the instruction was not an error.
As a result, the original state decision allowing the punitive damage award is reaffirmed -- at least for now. This litigation has been going on for more than a decade, and has already taken two trips to the U.S. Supreme Court, so chances are that the case is not over.