Illinois Supreme Court overturns Price v. Philip Morris ruling

The marketing of "light" cigarettes is not hazardous to the health of the largest U.S. tobacco company: the Illinois Supreme Court has overturned a $10.1 billion Madison County bench verdict, Price v. Philip Morris.

In a 4-2 decision announced Thursday, the court grounded its decision on a section of the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act, which exempts conduct allowed by U.S. regulatory bodies.

The court held that the Federal Trade Commission authorized tobacco companies to characterize cigarettes as "light" or "low tar and nicotine."

Madison County Circuit Judge Nicholas Byron issued the verdict in 2003, citing the defendant duped smokers into believing light cigarettes were safer than regular ones.

Byron called the conduct "outrageous and evil."

The losses for which plaintiffs seek compensation are purely economic. Their claim is simply that they did not receive what they bargained for. They paid for health benefits they did not get.”

— Justice Lloyd Karmeier

Today marks the second time in just six months that this court has completely reversed a multibillion dollar verdict in favor of a corporate defendant. The manner in which these two, highly publicized cases have been decided by this court leads me to several troubling conclusions. There is little doubt in my mind that these decisions will send a chill wind over consumer protection. That said, I am not blind to the very real problems that exist in the world of class action lawsuits.”

— Justice Charles Freeman