The Price of a Life
It turned out to be a lethal one. Betty Bullock, now 64, tried repeatedly to quit but in February 2001 was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. She responded by, among other things, suing tobacco giant Philip Morris, alleging that as a 17-year-old in South Dakota she was lured into smoking by ads that made it seem glamorous and harmless. On Oct. 4 an L.A. jury agreed, awarding Bullock a staggering $28 billion in punitive damages—what appears to be the largest payment ever granted to an individual plaintiff in U.S. history.
Philip Morris, not surprisingly, decries the decision. Bullock "was aware of the risks of smoking," says a company spokesman. "Her doctors had warned her. Nothing Philip Morris said or did improperly influenced her decision about smoking." Jury forewoman Jessica Gelson, 34, an L.A. therapist, counters that the company "knew by 1947 that smoking caused cancer. But they led a campaign for 50 years saying it wasn't harmful." The award, she adds, represents the average amount Philip Morris earned in a single year.
Bullock hopes the money will be used to start a cancer foundation, but doctors doubt she'll live long enough to see that happen. The company "won't stop appealing until there's no place else to appeal," says her lawyer Michael Piuze, and awards often shrink substantially in that process. Still, Jodie reports, her mother is satisfied. "If what she's done saves just one person from starting to smoke, she says this was worth her time."