Smoking and OJ Are Bad For You

Yesterday, I read an article in the Washington Post about punitive damages and due process. At issue was a decision by the Oregon Supreme Court to leave a jury award as is even though the U.S. Supreme Court “strongly implied” that the award was too large. The Oregon case, Philip Morris USA v. Williams, ended with an award of $80 million in punitive damages to the wife of a three-pack-a-day smoker that had died of lung cancer. The article states that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, that the Oregon court had applied the wrong constitutional standard when reviewing the award. According to the article

[The U.S. Supreme Court] strongly suggested the figure was too high and told the state court to make sure the jury had not awarded such heavy damages – which are aimed at discouraging companies from reprehensible behavior – because of harm the cigarette maker may have done to others, rather than to Jesse Williams [the deceased].

And, according to Justice Breyer

The Due Process Clause prohibits a State’s inflicting punishment for harm caused strangers to the litigation.

Not being of a legal mind, I found this fascinating. While punitive damages may be awarded to a plaintiff in order to deter reprehensible actions in the future, the punitive damages cannot be so great, apparently, as to be construed as redress for damages in the present for those not party to the litigation.

The interesting legal news of today was the sentencing of O.J. Simpson to prison. CNN indicates that his sentence is a minimum of 15 years and a maximum of 33 and that he would be eligible for parole in 9 years, when he would be 70 years old.

The article quotes District Judge Jackie Glass as saying

Earlier in this case, at a bail hearing, I said to Mr. Simpson, I didn’t know if he was arrogant, ignorant or both. During the trial and through this proceeding, I got the answer, and it was both.

Though the article states that it could have been worse for Simpson and his co-defendant (they could have received life in prison), Judge Glass is quoted as saying that the sentence was not “payback for anything else”, referring apparently to Simpson’s acquittal in a criminal trial for the deaths of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman.

But I wonder if maybe there is some parallel between OJ and the Oregon decision; specifically, I wonder if maybe there was a little “payback” that snuck into the sentence, as there may have been a little “punishment” in the Oregon award for harm caused strangers to the litigation.

Personally, I think Judge Glass can make a lot of money just by releasing a book in a few years with this title:

Judge Glass: If There Was Payback, Here’s How It Happened.

Not Not Kill Nobody

Not Not Kill Nobody

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