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At the U.S. Supreme Court this week are oral arguments on the constitutionality of a jury award of punitive damages against a tobacco company. The outcome of this case will affect not just the tobacco industry but also all elderly victims whose injuries may be undervalued by compensatory damages.

After Jesse Williams, a retired janitor, died from lung cancer, his widow, Mayola, sued Philip Morris USA for negligence and fraud. Jesse Williams had smoked Philip Morris cigarettes from the early 1950s until his death in 1997. In response to his family’s efforts to get him to stop smoking, he stated that the cigarette companies would not sell them if they were dangerous to his health as his family claimed.

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