Sunday, July 20, 2014

Jury Awards $23.6 Billion in Florida Smoking Case

By FRANCES ROBLES, NYT
JULY 19, 2014

MIAMI — A jury in northwestern Florida awarded a staggering $23 billion judgment late Friday against the country’s second-largest tobacco company for causing the death of a chain smoker who died of lung cancer at the age of 36.

The company, the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, promised a prompt appeal.

Michael Johnson Sr. died in 1996 after smoking for more than 20 years. In 2006, his widow, Cynthia Robinson, of Pensacola, sued R. J. Reynolds the maker of the Kool brand cigarettes her husband had smoked, arguing that the company had deliberately concealed the health hazards its product caused.

The four-week trial ended Wednesday. The jury deliberated for 18 hours over two days, first awarding $17 million in compensatory damages and then emerging at 10 p.m. Friday with a $23.6 billion punitive judgment.

“When they first read the verdict, I know I heard ‘million,’ and I got so excited,” Ms. Robinson said in a phone interview Saturday. “Then the attorney informed me that was a ‘B’ — billion. It was just unbelievable.”

She said Mr. Johnson, a longshoreman and hotel shuttle bus driver to whom she was married from 1990 until his death six years later, began smoking around age 13. He often lit a fresh cigarette with the butt end of another.

(More here.)

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