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Florida Jury Rules R.J. Reynolds Must Pay $23 Billion in Punitive Damages

In a Florida state court jury ruling on July 19, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. was ordered to pay more than $23 billion in punitive damages to the widow of a lung cancer victim.

Cynthia Robinson had filed a lawsuit against the tobacco company after her husband, longtime smoker Michael Johnson Sr., died of lung cancer in the mid-1990s. After four weeks of proceedings, a Pensacola jury awarded Robinson $23.6 billion in punitive damages, in addition to nearly $17 million in compensatory damages.

Although the jury also determined that Johnson was 30 percent responsible for the illness that led to his death, it sided mainly with Robinson in the hopes of finally sending a message to R.J. Reynolds and its competitors that their disregard for the lives of innocent people and their refusal to come clean about the addictive nature of their products would no longer be tolerated.

The assistant general counsel for R.J. Reynolds insisted that the damages awarded were hugely disproportionate and impermissible under the state and constitutional laws mandating caps to damages. The company also held that the verdict was not consistent with the evidence been presented in the case.

Previously, the Florida Third District Court of Appeal had overturned a verdict awarding $145 billion in a class action lawsuit originally brought against the tobacco industry by lifelong smoker Howard Engle, who was unable to quit and died of emphysema. Since then, thousands of similar claims have been filed and are pending in Florida courts.

To learn more about these types of personal injury lawsuits, speak with an experienced Jacksonville personal injury lawyer at Combs Greene.

Florida lawyer Shane Herbert also contributed to this blog post.

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