US court gives dead smoker’s wife $23.6 billion

Court orders cigarette firm RJ Reynolds to pay $23.6 billion to the wife

Miami: A Florida jury has ordered the US cigarette firm RJ Reynolds to pay $23.6 billion to the wife of a longtime smoker who died of lung cancer in a verdict seen as one of the largest for a single plaintiff in state history.

In addition to the punitive damages, Friday’s verdict also awarded more than $16 million in compensatory damages to the estate of Michael Johnson. During the four-week trial, lawyers for Johnson’s wife Cynthia Robinson argued that RJ Reynolds was negligent in informing consumers of the dangers of consuming tobacco, which led to Johnson contracting lung cancer from smoking.

They said Johnson had become “addicted” to cigarettes and failed multiple attempts to quit smoking. The Escambia County jury returned its verdict after some 15 hours of deliberations.

“RJ Reynolds took a calculated risk by manufacturing cigarettes and selling them to consumers without properly informing them of the hazards,” Robinson’s lawyer Willie Gary said in a statement.

“As a result of their negligence, my client’s husband suffered from lung cancer and eventually lost his life.” “We hope that this verdict will send a message to RJ Reynolds and other big tobacco companies that will force them to stop putting the lives of innocent people in jeopardy.”

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.

RJ Reynolds plans to appeal the court decision and verdict, vice-president and assistant general counsel J. Jeffery Raborn said.

( Source : agencies )
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