Widow Awarded $23.6B in Cigarette Suit

One of America's biggest tobacco companies was ordered to pay up in a really big way. Late Friday night, a Florida jury decided that R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company had to pay 23.6 billion in punitive judgment to the widow of a man who died at lung cancer at age 36. The jury had already decided that the company owed Cynthia Robinson, the widow of Michael Johnson Sr., $17 million in compensatory damages prior to this verdict. R.J. Reynolds announced on Saturday its rather unsurprising plan to appeal the verdict. J. Jeffrey Raborn, the company's vice president and assistant general council, said the damages “are grossly excessive and impermissible” and the verdict “goes far beyond the realm of reasonableness and fairness.” The verdict makes Robinson's suit one of the most successful “Engle Progency” cases. In 2006, Florida ruled smokers could not file a class-action lawsuit, but could sue individually. The ruling overturned a $145 billion verdict, but many of the individual cases have had victories at trial, though not with as significant damages awarded as in this most recent case. Robsinon said she, too, was taken aback by the damages awarded to her “When they first read the verdict, I know I heard ‘million,’ and I got so excited,Then the attorney informed me that was a ‘B’ — billion. It was just unbelievable.”