RJ Reynolds told to pay wife of cancer victim $23.6bn


Ms Robinson argued that RJ Reynolds was negligent in informing consumers of the dangers of consuming tobacco.

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A US court has ordered the country's second largest cigarette company to pay $23.6 billion (£13.8bn) to the wife of a smoker who died of lung cancer.

RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company was hit with the punitive fine in addition to $16.8m (£9.8m) in compensatory damages.

Cynthia Robinson took action against the firm in 2008, seeking compensation for her husband's death in 1996.

A company official said the verdict was ``grossly excessive and impermissible under state and constitutional law.''

During the four-week trial, lawyers for Ms Robinson argued that RJ Reynolds was negligent in informing consumers of the dangers of consuming tobacco.

This negligence, the lawyers said, led to her husband Michael Johnson Sr contracting lung cancer from smoking after becoming "addicted" and failing multiple attempts to quit.

'A message for tobacco firms'

"RJ Reynolds took a calculated risk by manufacturing cigarettes and selling them to consumers without properly informing them of the hazards," Ms Robinson's lawyer Willie Gary said.

"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," he added.

RJ Reynolds plans to appeal against the court's decision, vice president and assistant general counsel Jeffery Raborn said in a statement.

"This verdict goes far beyond the realm of reasonableness and fairness, and is completely inconsistent with the evidence presented," he said.

``We plan 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 punitive damages awarded to Ms Robinson were said to be the largest of any individual case stemming from a class action lawsuit filed in Florida.

Several similar cases have resulted in smaller payouts after the state's highest court ruled that smokers and their families only had to prove addiction and that smoking caused their illness.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 619.

    How much???

    He knew the risks - he took the risks. The company may be partly to blame, but so was the smoker, and the size of the compensation package is utterly absurd.

  • Comment number 618.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 617.

    603. jicarilla26
    I strongly object to the BBC using quotation marks around the word "addicted". Nicotine has been proven to be more addictive than heroin,
    Are you as concerned about the beebs advertising campaign for camel classic?

    PS Editor.
    I see you are around making picks can you restore my 594, Well on topic it is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 616.

    Good news - I visited the US just a week ago and you can buy all your favourite cigarettes in their pretty boxes with no health warnings on them. Its like going back to when I was a kid but the only thing missing are the adverts of butch cowboys. Rat poison has more warnings on the packet so a punitive financial settlement might focus their corrupt little brains.

  • rate this

    Comment number 615.

    Shouldn't the same apply to any innocent war victim by leaders condoning the use of guns, bombs etc.
    Need I say anything about innocent passengers on jets?

  • rate this

    Comment number 614.

    Wrong, Wrong, Wrong, How about people taking responsibility for their own actions, we need tort reform in this country to stop these insane lawsuits

  • rate this

    Comment number 613.

    "I strongly object to the BBC using quotation marks around the word "addicted" ... the quotation marks indicate irony or sarcasm."

    No they don't - the clue's in the name, they're there to indicate a quotation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 612.

    I liked one of the beeb's sub headlines : "Appeal likely"

    An appeal is a 100% sure fire certainty. I sometimes wonder if this warps the thinking in the first trial of this sort of case. Might as well grab the headlines as this thing is going to drag on for years anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 611.

    605. LucyJ
    Millions of people know its bad to smoke
    but they do it anyway
    That is part of freedom of speech- having the right to make that decision for yourself

    Smoking or the decision to do so falls under the right to free speech? I have many absurd claims as to what falls under free speech, but yours got the loudest laugh in the pub.

  • rate this

    Comment number 610.

    The guy knew the risks, they've been well-publicised for years - he just chose to ignore them. Saying he failed to give up several times either means he didn't get the support he needed (from wife?) or he lacked the willpower. Also the payout is an obscene amount - perhaps she should donate it to anti-smoking charities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 609.

    If Mrs R's Hubby was killed by lightning, how would it be described? Whom would she sue? Where would she find the lawyers to take her case?

  • Comment number 608.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 607.

    what a stupid amount of money. Selling tobacco isn't illegal , you can't pick on a company because you don't like what they sell. Ridiculous.

  • rate this

    Comment number 606.

    I am the last remaining (youngest at 58yrs old) male in my family - 3 brothers and my father dying from cancer (smoking related). All of them died before the age of 63yrs old and knew the risks. I have never smoked.

    Even if the company was to blame, the amount is ridiculous.

  • rate this

    Comment number 605.

    You can't blame the lady for suing
    but it shows how bad the courts are now in USA

    Millions of people know its bad to smoke
    but they do it anyway

    That is part of freedom of speech- having the right to make that decision for yourself

    Our courts are going downhill fast

  • rate this

    Comment number 604.

    597. Jezza
    I hope this sets a precedent and people will start suing all kinds of health damaging products like McD, Coke, Pepsi, KFC etc etc.
    You a legal eagle?

  • rate this

    Comment number 603.

    I strongly object to the BBC using quotation marks around the word "addicted". Nicotine has been proven to be more addictive than heroin, and the quotation marks indicate irony or sarcasm. To the best of my knowledge there are no nicotine addiction rehab centers available and there should be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 602.

    Any fool that has even been caught in smoke from a bonfire knows that it cannot be good for you. I was a Fireman and what did we do after a good hot smokey job? We lit up! !

    I smoked around 60 a day, giving up about 35 years ago but for the travesty of a payout like this I think I'll start again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 601.

    Perhaps instead of awarding a ludicrous amount of money to a woman who didn't even smoke, they should give it to cancer research charities to help find a cure etc...

    Also this verdict shows just how daft the US legal system can be, how is such a vast sum of money going to help this woman, except make her obscenely rich for having a husband who wouldn't/couldn't quit smoking!?

  • rate this

    Comment number 600.

    Here is a country which levies a fine of $23bn fine (which we all know is never going to get paid), but who ardently support the right of their citizens to carry guns. 'Go figure' !


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