Supreme Court Tells Lower Court to Reconsider Atria Decision - TheStreet

A U.S. Supreme Court set aside a state appellate court's decision on Monday that

Altria Group's

(MO) - Get Report

Philip Morris USA unit must pay $79.5 million in punitive damages to a dead smoker's estate.

In June 2002, an Oregon appellate court had ruled that the embattled cigarette giant must pay damages to the family of Jesse Williams, a longtime smoker who died of lung cancer in 1997. In the lawsuit known as the Williams-Branch case, the jury had also awarded compensatory damages of about $800,000.

The U.S. Supreme Court directed the appellate court to reconsider the case in view of its April decision in the State Farm vs. Campbell lawsuit, which suggested that the amount of punitive damages should usually not exceed those of compensatory damages.

"Philip Morris USA intends to ask the Oregon Court of Appeals to order a new trial, of all issues, not just punitive damages, in light of the manner in which the case was tried and the punitive damage award that violated State Farm and the U.S. Constitution," said William S. Ohlemeyer, Philip Morris USA associate general counsel, in a press release.

Shares of Altria were recently up 45 cents, or 1%, at $45.14.