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Florida jury awards record $23 billion against RJ Reynolds

ORLANDO: A Florida jury has awarded the widow of a chain smoker who died of lung cancer 18 years ago a record punitive damages of more than 23 billion dollars in her lawsuit against the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, the nation’s second-biggest cigarette maker.
The judgment, returned on Friday night, was the largest in Florida history in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by a single plaintiff, according to Ryan Julison, a spokesman for the woman’s lawyer, Chris Chestnut.
Cynthia Robinson of the Florida Panhandle city of Pensacola
sued the cigarette maker in 2008 over the death of her husband,
Michael Johnson, claiming the company conspired to conceal the health dangers and addictive nature of its products.
Johnson, a hotel shuttle bus driver who died of lung cancer in 1996 at age 36, smoked one to three packs a day for more 20 years, starting at age 13, Chestnut said.
‘He couldn’t quit. He was smoking the day he died,’ the lawyer told Reuters yesterday.
After a four-week trial and 11 hours of deliberations, the jury returned a verdict granting compensatory damages of 7.3 million dollars to the widow and the couple’s child, and 9.6 million dollars to Johnson’s son from a previous relationship.
The same jury deliberated for another seven hours before awarding Robinson the additional sum of 23.6 billion dollars in punitive damages, according to the verdict forms.
Lawyers for the tobacco company, a unit of Reynolds American
Inc whose brands include Camel, Kool, Winston and Pall Mall cigarettes, could not immediately be reached for comment.
But J Jeffery Raborn, vice president and assistant general counsel for R J Reynolds, said in a statement quoted by the New York Times that the company planned to challenge ‘this runaway verdict.’

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