Widow wins $115m after long fight with tobacco giant 
  a.. Ed Pilkington in New York 
  b.. April 2, 2009 
Fight...Mayola Williams leaves court in 2006. Photo: AP 

MAYOLA WILLIAMS is an example of the power of perseverance over a seemingly 
unbeatable adversary.

For 10 years she has been waging a legal battle against one of the world's 
largest tobacco corporations, seeking justice for her husband, who died from 
lung cancer in 1997.

During the course of the Herculean struggle, the US tobacco giant Philip Morris 
threw its top lawyers at the case in an attempt to avoid having to pay almost 
$US80 million ($115 million) in punitive damages. As a result of the firm's 
aggressive tactics - described by legal experts as "scorched earth litigation" 
- the case was brought before the US's highest judicial body, the Supreme 
Court, no fewer than three times. But in the third and final hearing on Monday, 
the court ruled effectively in her favour.

The will of the original jury that heard Mrs Williams present the case of her 
deceased husband, Jesse, way back in 1999 will now stand. It found that Jesse 
himself and Philip Morris, the makers of Marlboro cigarettes, had been equally 
liable for his death.

It awarded punitive damages of $US79.5 million against Philip Morris - a record 
sum at that time. That figure has now risen to $US145 million with interest.

Of that, Mrs Williams stands to be paid $US58 million, with the rest going to a 
fund for crime victims in the family's home state of Oregon.

During the 1999 trial, the jury heard that Jesse, a janitor in Portland, began 
smoking in the early 1950s while in the army. He became so addicted that he 
would smoke up to three packets of Marlboros a day. He died in March 1997, aged 
67, five months after he was diagnosed with lung cancer. His widow told the 
jury that when he first fell ill he had been incredulous that Philip Morris had 
done anything wrong. "He'd say, 'I just don't believe it, because the tobacco 
company just would not do that."'

But by the time of his death he had become convinced of the firm's culpability, 
and his dying wish was to make cigarette companies stop deceiving people about 
the risks of smoking. He told her: "Well, these darned cigarette people finally 
did it. They were lying all the time."

Mrs Williams finished her testimony by saying: "What Jesse had started, I 
wanted to finish. I wanted the tobacco company to take responsibility for what 
they'd been doing to people."

Last December the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case for the third time at 
the behest of Philip Morris, after the Oregon courts refused to reduce the 
punitive damages award following an earlier directive from the nation's highest 

But on Monday the Supreme Court changed its mind, announcing it was not going 
to get involved in the legal arguments without explaining its decision.

For Mayola Williams, the widow of a man whose trust in corporate America proved 
to be his undoing, her decade-long trial is now at an end.

Guardian News & Media


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