Tobacco Manufacturer Wins Dismissal and New Trial of $20,000,000 Punitive Damages Verdict in Smoker's Wrongful Death Lawsuit


The purpose of punitive damages in personal injury lawsuits is to act as a punishment to the offensive defendant and as a deterrent or warning to others. They are awarded in addition to the plaintiff's compensatory damages (i.e., pain and suffering, loss of earnings and medical expenses); however, they are only available when a defendant's conduct has a high degree of moral culpability and manifests a conscious or reckless disregard for the rights of others.

Punitive damages are controversial. For example, Ted Frank at Overlawyered discusses the issues surrounding tax deductions for punitive damage payments and law school professors Edward Cheng (Brooklyn) and Albert Yoon (Toronto) discuss their unpredictability at TortsProf Blog.

The most recent appellate court decision in New York to deal with punitive damages is Frankson v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., a smoker's wrongful death lawsuit, in which the decedent's estate was awarded $20,000,000 in punitive damages. That award was vacated this week and a new trial ordered.

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