Jesse Williams

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

Jesse Williams is the deceased African-American plaintiff in the case of Williams V. Philip Morris, Inc. 07-1216.

Jesse Williams was a former Portland school janitor who died of lung cancer in 1997 after smoking Marlboro cigarettes for 42 years. He had become addicted to nicotine while serving in the armed forces. After his death at age 67, his wife, Mayola Williams, pursued a case against Philip Morris, who manufactures the Marlboro brand. Mrs. Williams argued that Philip Morris had deceived Jesse with its long-running misinformation campaigns designed to allay fears about the health dangers of smoking and convince the public that smoking was harmless, and that the company was thus liable for his death.

Stephen M. Raffle, and Oakland, California psychiatrist, testified in his case that nicotine did not play a part in Mr. Williams inability to quit smoking. Dr. Raffle also testified that he had had a prior paid relationship with the Tobacco Institute and was paid for his 1988 testimony before a Congressional Committee disputing the addictiveness of nicotine.[1]

Philip Morris lost the case and was ordered to pay $81 million to Mr. Williams' estate. A newspaper article reported that jurors in the case apparently were angered by Philip Morris documents that showed company officials had known for decades that cigarettes are addictive and can cause cancer.[2] The trial court judge reduced the award in the case verdict to $32 million, saying that the original award was excessive.

After the Williams verdict in 1999, Philip Morris finally admitted publicly that smoking causes cancer.

Philip Morris appealed the Williams case, and asked Oregon appellate courts to overturn the verdict. After hearing the company's appeal, however, the Oregon Court of Appeals restored the $79 million punitive damages award, a move that the state Supreme Court had unanimously approved, saying that Philip Morris' egregious conduct merited the punishment. After that, PM appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court three times.

In its 2008 Supreme Court appeal in the case, PM compared itself to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), portrayed itself as a civil rights victim and argued that, like civil rights victims, it had been denied due process and adequate legal representation in the Williams case.[3]

On March 31, 2009, after a dozen years of litigation, the Supreme Court issued a one-sentence order dismissing Philip Morris' appeal. The ruling left intact an award that, with interest, has grown to more than US$150 million. If PM pays it in full, it would set a record in an individual smoker case.[4]

Sourcewatch resources

External resources

  • Supreme Court of the United States, March 31, 2009 One-page ruling in the Philip Morris v. Williams case


  1. Trial testimony of STEPHEN M. RAFFLE, M.D., March 22, 1999 (p.m.), WILLIAMS v. PHILIP MORRIS INC. Transcript. 122 pp. March 22, 1999. DATTA Collection Bates No. RAFFLES032299PM
  2. Patrick O'Niell, Joe Rojas-Burke Newsletter/Philip Morris Told to Pay $81 Million in Damages Portland Oregonian, March 31, 1999. Philip Morris Bates No. 2077777649/7652
  3. Stephanie Mencimer Philip Morris' Legal Smokescreen, Mother Jones magazine, December 4, 2008
  4. Greg Stohr, Bloomberg Altria Appeal of Smoker Award Dismissed by Top Court Update 2. March 31, 2009

<tdo>resource_id=23093 resource_code=williams_jesse search_term="Jesse Williams"</tdo> Cateogry:Lawsuits