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30 May 2006

Supreme Court to Review Punitive Damages Case

30 May 2006, Washington D.C. - The United States Supreme Court said today that it will hear a challenge to a $79.5 million punitive damages award against Philip Morris USA. Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw LLP is counsel of record for Philip Morris in this case, in which the Court will examine the constitutional limits on awards of punitive damages.

Philip Morris USA v. Williams, No. 05-1256, arises out of the claim by a widow of a smoker that Philip Morris defrauded him into believing that cigarettes are not harmful to health. The jury found Philip Morris liable and awarded $821,485 in compensatory damages and $79.5 million in punitive damages. The Supreme Court will address two questions: (1) whether, if a court finds that a company's misconduct was outrageous, that finding can override the rule that punitive damages must bear a reasonable ratio to compensatory damages; and (2) whether due process permits a jury to punish a defendant for the effects of its conduct on non-parties.

The Mayer Brown team that prepared the petition for certiorari includes Andrew Frey, Kenneth Geller, Evan Tager, and Lauren Goldman. The Court will hear oral arguments in the case in its next term, which begins in October.

Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw has been involved in all of the significant punitive damages cases in the Supreme Court during the last decade and a half, serving as counsel of record for the business defendant in three of those cases, including BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559 (1996), the Court's landmark case on excessive punitive damages, and authoring influential amicus briefs for the Chamber of Commerce of the United States in State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Campbell, 538 U.S. 408 (2003), and Cooper Industries, Inc. v. Leatherman Tool Group, Inc., 532 U.S. 424 (2001).

In addition, members of the firm's punitive damages practice have represented business defendants in punitive damages litigation in federal and state courts throughout the country, including in the capacity of national coordinating counsel. The firm has assisted clients at all stages of punitive damages litigation, from developing defenses and drafting motions in limine to assisting with post-trial motions and handling appeals.

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