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Brannock Humphries & Berman Wins Appeal in Massachusetts Supreme Court

In a case with national implications, Brannock Humphries & Berman convinced the highest court in Massachusetts to uphold a $21 million jury verdict in favor of the widow of a man who died at age 59 from his addiction to Philip Morris cigarettes.

The Supreme Judicial Court issued its 37-page affirmance after extensive written briefing and an oral argument in Boston presented by Brannock Humphries & Berman shareholder Celene Humphries. The issue on appeal concerned the interpretation and effect of a 1998 settlement agreement between Philip Morris and 46 states, including Massachusetts. When the plaintiff filed her wrongful death lawsuit nearly two decades later, Philip Morris argued that the settlement agreement precluded an award of punitive damages.

Courts around the country are split on the issue. As the Massachusetts high court pointed out in its detailed decision, appellate courts in New York and Georgia had previously concluded that the settlement agreement prevents residents of those states from recovering punitive damages in wrongful death claims against the manufacturers of tobacco products. Courts in Florida and California, on the other hand, have allowed for such damages.

Based on the reasoning of the latter courts, and on principles of Massachusetts law, Brannock Humphries & Berman successfully convinced every one of the Massachusetts justices that the claim for punitive damages was not barred by the settlement agreement. The court also rejected Philip Morris’s other case-specific arguments for a new trial, as urged by Brannock Humphries & Berman. The result is a complete victory for the client and the trial team from Bernheim Kelley Battista & Bliss in Plymouth.