Jury tells tobacco giant to pay widow $23bn in damages

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A Reynolds American unit had been ordered by a Florida jury to pay a Pensacola woman $23 billion (R245bn) in punitive damages for her husband’s death from lung cancer, her lawyer said yesterday.

Since a Florida Supreme Court decision in 2006, individual plaintiffs in the state have been awarded large verdicts, with most of those being reduced on appeal.

The jury on Friday also awarded Cynthia Robinson $16 million in compensatory damages for the 1996 death of her husband, Michael Johnson, her lawyer, Willie Gary, said.

Robinson originally sued RJ Reynolds as part of a class action case against tobacco companies.

The original $145bn verdict was overturned by the state’s top court, which also decertified the class and opened the door to individuals to sue the companies.

The court endorsed many jury findings in the case, including that the firms were negligent, conspired to hide information about the dangers of smoking and sold defective products.

Gary said he expected the firm, the maker of Camel cigarettes, to appeal the verdict.

“I don’t know what the judges are going to do,” he said. “I hope and suspect that we will keep the verdict. The jury sent a message.”

Bryan Hatchell, a spokesman for Reynolds American, was not available to comment on the court’s verdict. – Bloomberg

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