The widow of a Florida man who died of lung cancer 18 years ago has been awarded $23 billion in punitive damages in a trial against the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, the nation’s second-biggest cigarette maker.
It is not the first time a jury has voted against big tobacco companies in Florida.
The U.S. Supreme Court last month declined to hear a series of tobacco company appeals, mainly from R.J. Reynolds, seeking to overturn Florida court judgments totaling more than $70 million.
The judgment was the largest in Florida history in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by a single plaintiff.
The jury sided with Cynthia Robinson of Pensacola who claimed in her suit that the company conspired to conceal the health dangers and addictive nature of its products.
Johnson, worked as a hotel shuttle bus driver who died of lung cancer in 1996 at age 36, He smoked one to three packs a day for more 20 years, starting at age 13.
“He couldn’t quit. He was smoking the day he died,”Robinson’s lawyer said after the verdict. After a four-week trial and 11 hours of deliberations, the jury returned a verdict granting compensatory damages of $7.3 million to the widow and the couple’s child, and $9.6 million to Johnson’s son from a previous relationship.
The same jury deliberated for another seven hours before awarding Robinson the additional sum of $23.6 billion in punitive damages.
J. Jeffery Raborn, vice president and assistant general counsel for R.J. Reynolds, said in a statement quoted by the New York Times that the company planned to challenge “this runaway verdict.” Such industry appeals are often successful.
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