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The 13th World Conference on Tobacco OR Health
Building capacity for a tobacco-free world
July 12-15, 2006, Washington, DC, USA
Objective: We sought to understand the extent to which high punitive damages have been awarded in smoking and health litigation, the justifications for high awards, and ways that such awards can serve to change industry conduct.
Methods: We searched previously secret tobacco industry documents as well as relevant case law and legal commentaries.
Results: Without the threat of high punitive damages awards, the tobacco industry has little incentive to change its dangerous course of conduct and can continue, unchecked, to undermine the public health. Our extensive research has revealed that the industry knowingly has used its enormous wealth to engage in litigation tactics that wear down plaintiffs. The industry thus has been able to evade significant punitive damages awards against it. Additionally, of those punitive damages awards that juries have handed down in recent cases against the industry, many have been overturned or reduced significantly during the protracted appeals process that the industry pursues after every adverse judgment against it. To halt this trend, the tobacco control community needs a proper analysis of the law on punitive damages to argue effectively – both in court and in public health forums – that high awards are a warranted and necessary public health measure. This presentation will put forth such an argument, focusing on the particular reprehensibility of the industry's behavior, the industry's use of its wealth to engage in litigation tactics that have allowed it to evade capture, and the need for a powerful financial disincentive to deter the industry's lethal misbehavior.