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Widow wins $155-million from tobacco company -

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Reporter: Jennifer Macey

ELEANOR HALL: Australian lawyers say the US Supreme Court's decision to uphold a $115-million
damages claim against the tobacco giant Philip Morris is a massive victory for consumers.

Mayola Williams is the widow of a chain smoker and she has been fighting for 10 years to get
compensation for her husband, who died from lung cancer in 1997. She initially won the case but the
tobacco company appealed three times. Now the US Supreme Court has upheld the initial decision and
ordered Philip Morris to pay the damages plus interest.

Jennifer Macey has our report.

JENNIFER MACEY: Jesse Williams, a janitor from Portland in the US, began smoking in the early 1950s
while in the army. This turned into a three packets of Marlboros a day habit and in 1997 he died
from lung cancer.

His widow, Mayola Williams sued the cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris for fraud on behalf of her
husband and after 10 years she's been awarded $115-million in punitive damages.

Leon Zwier from the Melbourne legal firm Arnold Bloch and Leibler says it's a significant win.

LEON ZWIER: The Williams case is a demonstration of human perseverance. The Williams family
commenced this litigation in 1999 and 10 years later obtained the judgement after numerous appeals
and numerous applications and after Mr Williams had died in 1997 - 12 years of battle with a
multinational giant. I regard it as remarkable.

JENNIFER MACEY: Philip Morris had taken the case to the US highest judicial body the Supreme Court,
three times. But in the final hearing the court ruled in Mrs Williams favour and ordered the
company to pay interest on top of her damages.

Simon Chapman is a professor of public health at the University of Sydney. He says it's a big blow
to the tobacco industry.

SIMON CHAPMAN: There is no point in levelling small fines at large companies like Philip Morris
because they would just regard that as part of the cost of doing business. So whacking them hard
like this with punitive damages sends a very, very strong signal that these sort of cases can
succeed and will be punished.

JENNIFER MACEY: But he doesn't think it will set a legal precedent.

SIMON CHAPMAN: Well interestingly the court dismissed the Philip Morris appeal without an opinion
and unfortunately this does not set an ideal legal precedent of the arguments which would have been
used in the dismissal.

JENNIFER MACEY: However barrister Peter Semmler QC disagrees.

PETER SEMMLER: I think it will encourage others because finally someone has actually achieved a
very substantial result and although a jury doesn't give reasons, nevertheless, I think others will
be encouraged to seek the same kind of redress against the tobacco industry.

JENNIFER MACEY: Peter Semmler represented Marlene Sharp a non-smoker who won compensation against
the Port Kembla RSL after she developed cancer from passive smoking. He says it's very difficult to
mount a case against a tobacco company in Australia.

PETER SEMMLER: Yup and that's my experience of the way that the tobacco industry conducts its
litigation in this country as well. It is generally a war of attrition. Their resources seem to be
almost unlimited and the ability of any individual to mount a successful court case against them is
obviously very limited.

They will take every point that they are entitled to. They will take appeal points. They will,
inevitably the litigation will be very prolonged and expensive and most individuals simply can't
afford that.

JENNIFER MACEY: In Australia the only person to win against a tobacco company, Rolah McCabe lost
the case on appeal in 2002. That same year, she died of lung cancer. Now her family are again
taking up legal proceedings against British American Tobacco.

Leon Zwier is representing the estate of Rolah McCabe. He says the aggressive legal tactics used in
the US are similar to experiences here.

LEON ZWIER: Well I think that it is a matter of public notoriety that tobacco litigation is
scorched-earth litigation. The tobacco companies leave no stone left unturned. No application not
made. No appeal not pursued. They take a scorched-earth approach to the way they fight in court. It
is heady, hard and expensive and I think that is a matter of public record.

JENNIFER MACEY: Professor Simon Chapman says many people simply don't have the resources to take
tobacco companies to court.

SIMON CHAPMAN: Under the Australian legal system unless a person has got basically no assets that
can be raided if they were to lose a case, no estate, no house, that sort of thing. Anyone who is
concerned about the possibility of having to turn over their assets in the event that a case was
lost, would be very dissuaded in an Australian environment from going ahead.

JENNIFER MACEY: But in the Williams case, Philip Morris is seeking a new trial through the Oregon
Supreme state court saying that the court's decision doesn't end the dispute and that Oregon State
law requires that 60 per cent of any punitive damages awarded be paid to the state.

ELEANOR HALL: Jennifer Macey reporting.