Right on the heels of news that it was purchasing the world’s No. 3 cigarette maker, Lorillard, RJ Reynolds has been ordered to pay $23.6 billion in a landmark lawsuit. The figure is 230 times what the plaintiff was asking for, more than $100 million.
The widow of a longtime smoker who died of lung cancer in 1996, Cynthia Robinson, brought the suit against the No. 2 tobacco company. And now a Florida jury has sided with her and has directed RJ Reynolds to fork over $23.6 billion in punitive damages.
“The case is one of thousands filed in Florida after the state Supreme Court in 2006 tossed out a $145 billion class action verdict,” reports The Huffington Post. Under that ruling smokers and their families had to only prove addiction and that smoking led to their illnesses or deaths.
A Pensacola jury awarded the multi-billion-dollar award after a four-week trial. The tobacco company must also pay an additional $16.8 million in compensatory damages. According to Robinson’s attorneys, the punitive damages are the largest of any individual case tied to the original class action lawsuit.
In 2008, Robinson individually sued R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.on behalf of her late husband, Michael Johnson Sr. “The jury wanted to send a statement that tobacco 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.
Robinson maintains that her husband wasn’t given all of the details about what’s in cigarettes, thereby denying him of the ability to make an informed choice. A clip played in court shows execs saying cigarettes aren’t addictive, contradicting statements in corporate documents.
Of course, RJ Reynolds is not too happy. Its vice president and assistant general counsel, Jeffery Raborn, claimed the damages were “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,” Raborn said. “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.”