Florida Jury Awards $23 Billion In Punitives To Smoker’s Family

Florida Jury Awards $23 Billion In Punitives To Smoker’s Family

PENSACOLA, Fla. — (Mealey’s) A Florida state court jury on July 18 ordered R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. to pay more than $23.6 billion in punitive damages to the family of a man who alleged that his death from lung cancer was caused by smoking (Cynthia Robinson, et al. v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., et al., No. 2008-CA-98, Fla. 1st Cir. Court, Escambia Co.). 

The $23,623,718,906.62 punitive damages award came one day after the same jury awarded $16.8 million in compensatory damages to the family of Michael Johnson Sr., who died in 1996 at age 36.  

(Complaint available.  Document #04-140722-010C.

The suit, brought by Cynthia Robinson as representative of her husband’s estate, was part of the Engle suit, a class action lawsuit that was decertified after trial in 2006 by the Florida Supreme Court (Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., 945 So. 2d 1246 [Fla. 2006]) [enhanced opinion available to lexis.com subscribers].  The court allowed class members to pursue individual claims using fact findings from the original Engle trial. 

The jury’s compensatory damages award, which came after three weeks of trial, consists of $7.3 million for Robinson and $9.5 million for Johnson’s son.  The jury assigned 29.5 percent of the responsibility to Johnson.  The jury found specifically that Johnson was addicted to tobacco and that the addiction was the legal cause of his death.  The jury also found for Robinson on the issue of fraudulent concealment and punitive damages.  

Robinson is represented by Howard M. Acosta of St. Petersburg, Fla., and Willie E. Gary, Tricia P.  Hoffler, Donald N. Watson and Jean Laws-Scott of Gary Williams Finney Lewis Watson and Sperando in Stuart, Fla.  R.J. Reynolds is represented by Randal Baringer and Geoffrey Beach of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Lawrence Ingram of Phelps Dunbar in Tampa, Fla. 

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 [Edtor's Note: Lexis subscribers may download the document using the link above. The document(s) are also available at www.mealeysonline.com or by calling the Customer Support Department at 1-800-833-9844.]

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