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Altria Group to Pay $13.8 Million to Family of Smoker, Lung Cancer Victim

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A California jury has ordered Altria Group, the parent company of Marlboro cigarette maker Philip Morris USA, to pay $13.8 million in punitive damages to the daughter of woman who died in 2003 of lung cancer after smoking Philip Morris cigarettes for 45 years.

The verdict for Jodie Bullock, daughter of Betty Bullock, who smoked Marlboro and Benson & Hedges cigarettes for 45 years, was reached yesterday in Los Angeles. An earlier award of $28 billion from a 2002 trial had been first reduced by the trial judge and then canceled by an appeals court that ordered a new trial on punitive damages.

Bullock’s lawyer, Michael Piuze, told jurors Philip Morris misrepresented the risks of smoking for 50 years. He asked for “billions” in punitive damages, saying that anything less wouldn’t punish the company. Altria, the largest U.S. cigarette maker, reported 2008 sales of $19.4 billion. -Bloomberg

Betty Bullock, who was 64 when the trial originally began in 2002, testified that cigarette ads convinced her to start smoking Marlboros at the age of 17, and that company misrepresentations of the risks of smoking kept her from quitting while she still had her health.

Significantly, the jury was split over the $13.8 million in punitive damages, with the 3 no’s actually holding out for a higher award. One juror said to the press that he would have awarded half a billion dollars in punitive damages, since anything less wouldn’t have an impact on Philip Morris’ gargantuan profits.

It’s good to see a jury taking a defiant stand against the cigarette makers to compensate the families of those killed by these toxic products through dishonest marketing.