Florida jury awards $23.6 billion to widow in smoking lawsuit

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(CNN) — A Florida jury awarded a widow $23.6 billion in punitive damages in her lawsuit against tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, her lawyer said.

Cynthia Robinson claimed that smoking killed her husband, Michael Johnson, in 1996. She argued R.J. Reynolds was negligent in not informing him that nicotine is addictive and smoking can cause lung cancer. Johnson started smoking when he was 13 and died of lung cancer when he was 36.

The jury award Friday evening is “courageous,” said Robinson’s lawyer, Christopher Chestnut.

“If anyone saw the documents that this jury saw, I believe that person would have awarded a similar or greater verdict amount,” he said.

The Escambia County trial took four weeks and the jury deliberated for 15 hours, according to the Pensacola News Journal. The verdict included more than $16 million in compensatory damages, the newspaper said.

Chestnut said five of the six jurors who heard the case were 45 or younger, which meant he had to show them how the tobacco industry presented its product before the public awareness campaigns on tobacco risks and dangers in the 1990s, he said.

In a statement, J. Jeffery Raborn, vice president and assistant general counsel for R. J. Reynolds, said, “The damages awarded in this case are grossly excessive and impermissible under state and constitutional law.

“This verdict goes far beyond the realm of reasonableness and fairness and is completely inconsistent with the evidence presented,” said Raborn. “We plan to file post-trial motions with the trial court promptly and are confident that the court will follow the law and not allow this runaway verdict to stand.”

Robinson’s case was once part of a class-action lawsuit in which a jury had awarded $145 billion in damages, but in 2006 the Florida Supreme Court overturned that verdict. In its ruling, however, the state’s high court opened the door for individual lawsuits against tobacco companies.

Robinson filed her lawsuit in 2008.


  • jrandl

    How you going to fine them that much, this government hasn’t got anyone thr smart enough to add and subtract all that which proves they are just robbing these companies for what ever they want, And the people to, Legalized government thieves is all they are. You give one woman millions of dollars What about the other millions of people that have the same claim.Thats our incompetent government for you, still picking and choosing who and what laws they are going to enforce, And that’s which ever one they can steal the most money. besides that her lawyers will get all that money. I heard of a sick guy who they were suing for just for some Medical bills, They said a $10,000 dollar check was in the mail, Well he finally got the check and opened it and the amount- was ( 0 ) the lawyers took every penny, The lawyers got all that money they used people for lawsuits that thought the were going to be rich.

  • Arariel

    This is just so stupid. She is just a grieving widow who is looking to place blame. I’m sorry for her loss, but her husband chose to smoke. The company didn’t force it on him. They should not have to pay a single cent.

  • John Denton

    I think that fining the tobacco companies is bogus. I will soon be 68 years old and I remember that my dad, mom and their friends used to tell me that smoking was bad for me and not to ever do it, that it would kill me at a young age. All of those people were born prior to 1930 and they knew that smoking was/is bad for people in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
    After the 1960s there has been warnings on the cigarette packages stating that smoking is hazardous to peoples health. Anyone who has started smoking in the last 100 years did so knowing the hazards of smoking and if they started and continued to smoke it was a conscious decision on there part. Why should the tobacco company be held responsible for peoples own bad decisions?

    • Charlie

      After the 60’s??? Actually, the tobacco companies were warning people as early as 1964 on the sides of the packs. So how do you spell stupid? How do you not know that smoking can cause cancer and kill, when it’s been in print since 1964.

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