| ORLANDO, Fla., July 19
ORLANDO, Fla., July 19 A Florida jury has
awarded the widow of a chain smoker who died of lung cancer
punitive damages of more than $23 billion in her lawsuit against
the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, the nation's second-biggest
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 Florida Panhandle city of Pensacola sued
the cigarette maker in 2008 over the death of her husband,
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 on Saturday.
After a four-week trial and 11 hours of jury deliberations,
the jury returned a verdict granting the widow $7.3 million and
the couple's son $9.6 million in compensatory damages.
The same jury deliberated for another seven hours before
deciding to award Robinson the additional sum of $23.6 billion
in punitive damages, according to the verdict forms.
Lawyers for the tobacco company, a unit of Reynolds American
Inc whose brands include Camel 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." Such industry appeals are often successful.
Chestnut countered, "This wasn't a runaway jury, it was a
Robinson's lawsuit originally was part of a large
class-action litigation known as the "Engle case," filed in 1994
against tobacco companies.
A jury in that case returned a verdict in 2000 in favor of
the plaintiffs awarding $145 billion in punitive damages, which
at the time was the largest such judgment in U.S. history.
That award, however, was tossed out in 2006 by the Florida
Supreme Court, which decertified the class, agreeing with a
lower court that the group was too disparate and each smoker
smoked for different reasons.
But the court said the plaintiffs could file lawsuits
individually. Robinson was one of them.
The Florida high court also let stand the jury's findings
that cigarettes are defective, dangerous and cause disease, and
that Big Tobacco was negligent, meaning those issues did not
have to be re-litigated in future lawsuits.
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Sandra Maler)