Proof that lying and violating discovery orders pays
For proof, look no further than the actions of the tobacco industry:
Last month, a Los Angeles jury awarded $13.8 million in punitive damages to the daughter of Betty Bullock, a smoker who had sued Philip Morris USA Inc. before she died of cancer. It was a huge loss -- for the plaintiff.
Just seven years before, a different jury in the same case had awarded a record $28 billion in punitives. Philip Morris appealed that blow, and eventually a California appellate court ordered a retrial, leading to the much diminished result of Aug. 24.
What happened between 2002 and last month? Bullock's lawyer, Los Angeles solo practitioner Michael Piuze, did not return calls seeking comment. But Charles Tauman, president of the plaintiff-friendly Tobacco Trial Lawyers' Association, said he had spoken to Piuze, who "felt that the jury that he had was of a different character than the one ... in the original Bullock case. He felt they were harsher and less willing to be sympathetic."
Lawyers on both sides of smoker cases say Piuze's experience is unique only in the magnitude of the lost award. Hard statistics on recent personal injury lawsuits against tobacco companies are difficult to come by, but the anecdotal evidence about punitive damages is growing. Jurors today are less willing to impose severe punishment than jurors just a decade ago.
The tobacco companies spent decades producing witnesses who lied under oath, violating discovery orders, and fraudulently using the attorney-client privilege to shield incriminating documents. And now that those practices are mostly over, jurors don’t care about what big tobacco did.
Oh well. If jurors did care and returned a huge damage award, the courts would just reduce it anyway.