Florida jury awards millions to widow
A Florida jury has slammed the nation's No. 2 cigarette maker, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co, with US$23.6 billion in punitive damages in a lawsuit filed by the widow of a longtime smoker who died of lung cancer in 1996.
The case is one of thousands filed in Florida after the state Supreme Court in 2006 tossed out a US$145-billion class action verdict. That ruling also said smokers and their families need only prove addiction and that smoking caused their illnesses or deaths.
Last year, Florida's highest court reapproved that decision, which made it easier for sick smokers or their survivors to pursue lawsuits against tobacco companies without having to prove to the court again that Big Tobacco knowingly sold dangerous products and hid the hazards of cigarette smoking.
The damages a Pensacola jury awarded last Friday to Cynthia Robinson after a four-week trial come in addition to US$16.8 million in compensatory damages.
Robinson individually sued Reynolds in 2008 on behalf of her late husband, Michael Johnson Sr. Her attorneys said the punitive damages are the largest of any individual case stemming from the original class action lawsuit.
"The jury wanted to send a statement that tobacco [companies] cannot continue to lie to the American people and the American government about the addictiveness of and the deadly chemicals in their cigarettes," said one of the woman's attorneys, Christopher Chestnut.
Reynolds' vice-president and assistant general counsel, J. Jeffery Raborn, called the damages in Robinson's case "grossly excessive and impermissible under state and constitutional law".