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Supreme Court backs smoker's widow

Mayola Williams lost her husband, Jesse Williams, a smoker since the 1950s, to lung cancer in 1997.

Associated Press

Mayola Williams lost her husband, Jesse Williams, a smoker since the 1950s, to lung cancer in 1997.

WASHINGTON — Ten years and a day after a jury awarded Mayola Williams nearly $80 million in punitive damages in her fight with a cigarettemaker, the Supreme Court said Tuesday that she can collect her share.

The court threw out the appeal of that award by Altria Group Inc.'s Philip Morris USA, frustrating the efforts of business interests hoping this case would get the court to set constitutional limits on damages awarded by juries.

Williams stands to collect between $60 million and $65 million from a pot that has grown to more than $155 million because of accrued interest.

In a one-sentence order, the court left in place a ruling by the Oregon Supreme Court in favor of Williams. The state court has upheld the verdict finding Philip Morris accountable for misleading people into thinking cigarettes were not dangerous or addictive.

Philip Morris had argued that the award should be thrown out and a new trial ordered because of flaws in the instructions given jurors before their deliberations.

Because the court itself said nothing about the case, it is hard to read into the decision, said experts on both sides of the case.

Williams' late husband, Jesse, started smoking during a 1950s Army hitch and died in 1997, six months after he was diagnosed with lung cancer.

Hawaii wins land fight

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the government's apology for the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom didn't strip the state of its rights to sell or transfer 1.2 acres of former monarchy land.

The court's unanimous decision overturns a ruling by the Hawaii Supreme Court that relied on Congress' 1993 Apology Resolution to block the sale of land conveyed to Hawaii when it became the 50th state.

Native Hawaiians want assurances that their former lands wouldn't be sold until their claims over the 1893 overthrow were resolved, but the state of Hawaii has asserted its sovereignty over its government property.

Supreme Court backs smoker's widow 03/31/09 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 4:49pm]

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