The U.S. Supreme Court is no stranger to challenges to punitive damages awards, but it has never faced a challenge quite like the one it will decide this term.

In Philip Morris v. Williams, No. 05-1256, the justices, for the first time, will apply their “guideposts” for judging allegedly excessive punitive awards to a case involving the death of a plaintiff — a longtime smoker who died of lung cancer — rather than the usual property or contract dispute. And the tobacco company defendant’s conduct in not telling the public about the health risks of smoking was described by a state supreme court as so egregious that the court twice allowed a punitive damages award nearly 100 times the amount of actual damages.

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