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$79 million smoker case not over

The U.S Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear – again – a case in which Philip Morris is disputing the size of a damage award.

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The US Supreme Court has agreed once again to take up the case of a smoker's widow in Oregon who was awarded $79.5 million in punitive damages against the tobacco firm Philip Morris.

In agreeing to hear the case, Philip Morris v. Mayola Williams, the justices have set the stage for a potential clash of judicial titans. On one side are the justices of the nation's highest court; on the other are the justices of the highest court in Oregon.

The case will involve an examination of whether the Oregon Supreme Court acted properly in upholding the $79.5 million verdict on state law grounds after the US Supreme Court sent the case back to the Oregon court based on federal constitutional grounds.

Lawyers for Philip Morris told the justices that the Oregon court had acted in defiance of the nation's highest court. They said that by upholding the $79.5 million verdict, the Oregon court ignored the substance of the US Supreme Court's decision.

Lurking in the background of the case is an even larger question: whether the $79.5 million awarded in the case of a single deceased smoker is so excessively large that it violates constitutional principles of due process and fairness.

It is a question that sharply divides the US high court and has led to significant disagreement and confusion within state courts.

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