Jury Smacks Tobacco Company R.J. Reynolds With $23 Billion Verdict

The bill has arrived for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco company in a lawsuit brought by a Florida woman whose husband smoked cigarettes and later died from lung cancer, and the company is not pleased: The jury returned one of the largest verdicts ever against a tobacco company, smacking Reynolds with $23.6 billion in damages.

The jury sided with the woman in her lawsuit, which used to be part of a larger class-action suit that was broken up in 2006, reports the Pensacola News Journal. She’s won more than $16 million in compensatory damages and a whopping $23 billion in punitive damages.

In the Engle v. Liggett Group Inc. suit, the jury handed down more than $145 billion to a nationwide group of people that included smokers and family members of deceased smokers. While the Florida Supreme Court overturned that ruling in 2006, it said individual plaintiffs could file their own lawsuits and use the jury’s finding that smoking causes cancer, nicotine is addictive, and the tobacco companies sold defective and unreasonably dangerous cigarettes.

“I think the jury wanted to make a difference,” the trial attorney said in this case. “All the cards were put on the table to show how the tobacco industry lied and failed to disclose information that could have saved lives, and that’s what the jury ruled on in this case.”

The jury deliberated for 15 hours after the four-week trial, and determined that the company was negligent in informing the woman’s late husband that smoking causes lung cancer and that nicotine is highly addictive. The man died of lung cancer in 1996.

Reynolds will of course, appeal, with the company’s vice president and assistant general counsel Jeffery Raborn calling the damages “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 in a statement. “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.”

It’s not all about the money, the plaintiff’s lawyer explained — it’s more important to stop tobacco companies from targeting young people.

“If we don’t get a dime, that’s OK, if we can make a difference and save some lives,” he says.

Escambia Co. jury hits RJ Reynolds with $23B verdict [Pensacola News Journal]

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