Dean Richards Staff Writer
The widow of a man who died of lung cancer back in 1996 has been awarded no less than $23.6 billion in punitive damages after she sued major tobacco company R.J. Reynolds over her husband's death.
Yes, you actually read that right: it wasn't a typo.
The court decided that R.J. Reynolds would have to pay over 23 billion dollars in compensation for their failure to properly inform the public about how addictive smoking is, and how it can cause lung cancer. In this day and age this might seem strange, but Cynthia Robinson's husband Michael Johnson died back in 1996, when the situation was still quite different, and when the dangers of smoking weren't yet public knowledge.
Johnson had been a chain-smoker since the age of 13, and died of lung cancer when he was only 36.
The verdict's staggeringly high fine comes as a surprise to many. Consider, for instance, R.J. Reynolds' revenue over all of 2013 ($8.2 billion), and you will find that it would take them 3 years of producing without cost and without paying their employees to be able to pay such a fine, were the burden actually to fall on them.
One of Robinson's lawyers, Christopher Chestnut, was less surprised, although he certainly seemed impressed. According to the Pensacola News Journal, he called the decision "courageous", adding that "if anyone saw the documents that this jury saw, I believe that person would have awarded a similar or greater verdict amount".
Chestnut also added that five of the six jurors were under the age of 45, which meant that he had to show them how the tobacco industry dealt with the knowledge of these dangers, before public awareness campaigns had properly managed to reach out to the world.
His colleague Willie Gary added, "They'll appeal because they always appeal. That's the attitude they have. But no matter how the ball bounces with the appeal, it's not the money that's important in this case."
The board of R.J. Reynolds was slightly less amused. Vice president of the company, Jeffery Raborn, said, "The damages awarded in this case are grossly excessive and impermissible under state and constitutional law. This verdict goes far beyond the realm of reasonableness and fairness and is completely inconsistent with the evidence presented."
Obviously confirming Gary's expectation, he added that they were planning "to file post-trial motions with the trial court promptly and are confident that the court will follow the law and not allow this runaway verdict to stand".
The case carries on, then.
Robinson filed her lawsuit back in 2008 already, but the affair started years earlier. A class-action lawsuit awarded $145 billion dollars worth of damages back in 2006 before the Florida Supreme Court overturned the verdict, but giving regular citizens the opportunity to file their case.
The appeal will probably take a very long time again, but the message has clearly been sent: the tobacco industry is in some trouble for the mistakes they made over two decades ago!Keep Up With PopWrapped On The Web!