Critics of the tobacco industry claimed victory since the dismissal left in place the large verdict against Philip Morris. Other analysts cautioned that it is impossible to know why the justices decided to dismiss the case three months after hearing oral arguments.
Ms. Williams's lawyer, Robert Peck, told the Associated Press the outcome suggests that larger punitive-damages awards are merited in cases where the underlying behavior is "sufficiently reprehensible."
Tobacco company officials disagreed. "Today's decision does not impact the court's earlier decisions on punitive damages," said Murray Garnick, associate general counsel at Altria, in a statement. Altria is the parent company to Philip Morris.
In 1999, an Oregon jury delivered a verdict in a case alleging that cigarette-maker Philip Morris engaged in a massive fraud against one of its best customers.
Williams said her late husband, Jesse, trusted the company when it played down warnings that cigarettes can be hazardous to your health. Mr. Williams smoked three packs a day until his lung-cancer diagnosis and death in 1997.
Philip Morris denied the fraud allegations. Lawyers for the company argued that the health hazards of cigarette smoking are widely known and that its customers accept those health risks when they purchase tobacco products.
In closing arguments, lawyers for Ms. Williams urged the Oregon jury to punish Philip Morris, not just on behalf of her husband, but for the thousands of other smokers duped or misled by the tobacco company.
Philip Morris lawyers responded by asking the trial judge to issue an instruction to the jury that any verdict be based on harms allegedly done to Mr. Williams, not to unidentified other smokers.
The judge declined to give the company's suggested instruction to the jury.