So here's the story: Betty Bullock smoked Benson & Hedges and Marlboros for 45 years, and was diagnosed with lung cancer. She sued Altria / Philip Morris, and in 2002, her case went to trial, resulting in a compensatory award of a relatively pedestrian $850,000 and a punitive jury award of a mere $28 billion. Not surprisingly, the trial court found that a tad excessive, and reduced the punitives to $28 million. The court of appeal later took the entire punitive award away on the ground of erroneous jury instruction. Bullock v. Philip Morris USA, Inc. (2008) 159 Cal.App.4th 655.
By that time, Ms. Bullock has passed on, and her daughter took the case to trial again this month, on the amount of punitive damages only. This week the jury came in with a relatively piddling $13.8 million in punitives. The Bloomberg report is here, the AP here.
But I've got to love the quotes from the two attorneys. From a stunned and disappointed plaintiff attorney Michael Piuze, we have the following:
And from Shook Hardy's Frank Kelly, a model of equanimity:
California Punitive Damages, An Exemplary Blog, covers the entire history of the case in a set of posts here.