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A Los Angeles judge slashed the largest punitive damages award ever granted in an individual smoking case Wednesday, shrinking the payout from a staggering $28 billion to $28 million. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Warren Ettinger ruled that the $28 billion award levied on Philip Morris Inc. was excessive because it was 33,000 times greater than the $850,000 in compensatory damages awarded in the case. “There is no bright-line rule in deciding when the punitive to compensatory damages relationship becomes excessive as a matter of law,” Judge Ettinger acknowledged in his ruling. But he cited a U.S. Supreme Court case in which the court noted that where the ratio “is a breathtaking 500:1… ‘the award must surely raise a suspicious judicial eyebrow.’” A jury awarded the $28 billion to 64-year-old Newport Beach, Calif., resident and lifelong smoker Betty Bullock in October. The jury came up with the sum after hearing evidence that Philip Morris had known smoking was addictive and caused lung cancer for 50 years. The ruling reducing the award was expected. The previous record for an individual smoking case was reduced from $3 billion to $100 million. In his seven-page ruling Wednesday, Judge Ettinger denied Philip Morris’ motion for a summary judgment notwithstanding verdict and motion for a new trial, though he scheduled a new trial on the punitive damages issue to begin in January in the event that the plaintiff chooses not to accept the reduced award.

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