- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 20, 2014

A jury has awarded $23.6 billion in punitive damages to a Florida widow who says her husband died because tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds was negligent in informing consumers of the negative health effects of smoking.

Cynthia Robinson claimed in her wrongful death lawsuit against America’s second-biggest cigarette maker that smoking killed her husband, Michael Johnson, 18 years ago when he was 36, CNN reported.

Ms. Robinson said her husband smoked between one and three packs of cigarettes a day for more 20 years. She claims R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company conspired to conceal the health dangers and addictive nature of its products.

“He couldn’t quit. He was smoking the day he died,” said her lawyer, Chris Chestnut, The Guardian reported.

The Escambia County trial took four weeks, and the jury deliberated for 15 hours, CNN said. The verdict announced Friday included more than $16 million in compensatory damages.

Mr. Chestnut called the decision “courageous.”

“They lied to Congress, they lied to the public, they lied to smokers and tried to blamed the smoker,” he said. “If anyone saw the documents that this jury saw, I believe that person would have awarded a similar or greater verdict amount.”

J. Jeffery Raborn, vice president and assistant general counsel for R. J. Reynolds, said in a statement: “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,” he said, CNN reported. “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.”

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