Smoker's widow awarded billions in suit against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco

Jury orders Big Tobacco to pay more than $23 billion in punitive damages to wife of late lung cancer victim

A Florida jury has slammed the nation's No. 2 cigarette maker, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., with $23.6 billion in punitive damages in a lawsuit filed by the widow of a longtime smoker who died of lung cancer in 1996.

The case is one of thousands filed in Florida after the state Supreme Court in 2006 tossed out a $145-billion class-action verdict. That ruling also said smokers and their families need only prove addiction and that smoking caused their illnesses or deaths.

Last year, Florida's highest court re-approved that decision, which made it easier for sick smokers or their survivors to pursue lawsuits against tobacco companies without having to prove to the court again that Big Tobacco knowingly sold dangerous products and hid the hazards of cigarette smoking.

The damages a Pensacola jury awarded Friday to Cynthia Robinson after a four-week trial come in addition to $16.8 million in compensatory damages.

Robinson individually sued Reynolds in 2008 on behalf of her late husband, Michael Johnson Sr. Her attorneys said the punitive damages are the largest of any individual case stemming from the original class-action lawsuit.

The lawsuit's goal was to stop tobacco companies from targeting children and young people with their advertising, said Willie Gary, an attorney representing Robinson.

Attorneys for Reynolds said they would appeal, arguing that the dangers of smoking were known because cigarettes had warning labels. The attorney for the family said teenagers were targeted by tobacco companies.

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