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 639.

    jicarilla26 - "...Nicotine has been proven to be more addictive than heroin...".

    Suspicious of this kind of statement. Both my parents and my 2 wives - stopped smoking immediately (cold turkey?), the statement suggests we are wasting millions mollycoddling heroin abusers, when all they need is some will power.

  • Comment number 638.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 637.

    Complete madness! Where is personal responsibility? Everybody is looking for somebody to blame except themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 636.

    Can't wait to hear how much compensation we are owed for being forced to financially support a TV station. If that's not against our human rights I don't know what is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 635.

    Even if you agree with national debt sized punitive damages, why should the money go to an individual? Why not make them fund health initiatives instead?

    Crazy. Nothing to do with justice.

  • Comment number 634.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 633.

    627.uncommon sense
    "It is not normal to use quotation marks round single words in news articles unless the validity is in question"

    Which doesn't make it grammatically correct - even if this were to be true (most jornos get this right).

    If you read the piece it's pretty clear that it was a quote (both in context and grammar).

    So well done Beeb - a useful and correctly reported quote.

  • rate this

    Comment number 632.

    As this (along with the BP case) proves that the legal system in the USA is corrupt and self serving (the class action lawyers take a cut, hence the desire for big payments), I hope we can end the extradition arrangements where we send UK citizens to the USA to be subject to what they laughably call justice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 631.

    While I agree its an absurd award and clearly he took the risks by smoking, why should big business not be held accountable and act responsibly regards the products it sells.

    Responsibility is with us all. All being the key word to many of you ignore.

  • rate this

    Comment number 630.

    I hope this woman gives this money to a worthwhile cause. All this does is line the pockets of lawyers. The amount is negligible compared to the profits from tabacco. They can take a few litigations. Smoking will make you ill and contribute to an early death. The husband knew this or the whole family are incredibly stupid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 629.

    Ludicrous decision. Next obese people will be suing chocolate makers claiming they had no idea it was fattening.

  • rate this

    Comment number 628.

    This was all cleared up in a Federal Class Action 10 years ago I suggest the judge wakes up and dismisses this case

  • rate this

    Comment number 627.

    It is not normal to use quotation marks round single words in news articles unless the validity is in question, which it is not in this case.
    613. Number 9
    No they don't - the clue's in the name, they're there to indicate a quotation.

    603. jicarilla26
    "I strongly object to the BBC using quotation marks around the word "addicted" ... the quotation marks indicate irony or sarcasm."

  • rate this

    Comment number 626.

    Unless I'm mistaken, the worlds biggest killer is polluted drinking water leading to diarrhoea. These victims almost certainly won't ever have anyone fighting their cases in the courts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 625.

    Right Right Right!
    We cannot have corporations of any type, calculate into their business plans, "cost of doing business" cost of the lives lost! Similarly, "price" should reflect cost: If you include the cost to the health system from people smoking, the price of cigarets or other harmful substance would be 50x more expensive, a good deterrent for the young not to start a bad and deadly habit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 624.

    This guy died in '96, after "contracting lung cancer from smoking after becoming 'addicted' & failing multiple attempts to quit."

    He knew it was harmful, hence attempts to stop, but carried on. Cigarettes are legal, this is a poor decision. And 'without properly informing them of the hazards' - did they disconnect his TV & cancel his paper subscriptions?

  • rate this

    Comment number 623.

    609. CURTAINS 2012
    If Mrs R's Hubby was killed by lightning, how would it be described? Whom would she sue?


    a) as "shocking" b) Anyone that contributes to climate change of course. Or Greece. You know, because of Zeus and all that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 622.

    Smoking is bad for you and will kill you. People have choices to smoke or not smoke, but is it not about time tobacco companies accepted and publicly stated that their product is bad for you. People would still smoke and at least the companies would have a bit of credibility.

  • rate this

    Comment number 621.

    Let's hope that the entirety of this £14 billion gets invested back into helping people with all types of cancer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 620.

    Add up the people killed in World War I and II. Compare it to the number of premature deaths due to the addictive product that Reynolds and their ilk are pushing. Look at the healthcare costs to us the taxpayers for treating all those smoking related cancer, lung, and heart disease illnesses. And look at the billions of dollars they rake in on all that human misery. I'm glad for the verdict.


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