A California appellate court has defied — or at least stretched — precedent by upholding a $28 million punitive damages award against a major tobacco company, an amount 33 times greater than the compensatory damages.

Friday’s 2-1 ruling by Los Angeles’ 2nd District Court of Appeal acknowledged that the nation’s and state’s highest courts have declared single-digit ratios between punitives and compensatories generally satisfactory, but nonetheless found the hefty award justified by Philip Morris USA Inc.’s “extremely reprehensible” behavior.

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