A Florida jury smacked R.J. Reynolds, America's second-largest cigarette company, with $23.6 billion in damages in a smoking case late on Friday. It only seems to fair to say that the decision will prompt a quick appeal and that there's a pretty strong possibility that this award is going to be reduced.
The suit was filed the widow of Michael Johnson Sr., a longtime smoker who died of lung cancer at the age of 36, leaving behind two children. From the AP:
The case is one of thousands filed in Florida after the state Supreme Court in 2006 tossed out a $145 billion class action verdict. That ruling also said smokers and their families need only prove addiction and that smoking caused their illnesses or deaths.
Last year, Florida's highest court re-approved that decision, which made it easier for sick smokers or their survivors to pursue lawsuits against tobacco companies without having to prove to the court again that Big Tobacco knowingly sold dangerous products and hid the hazards of cigarette smoking.
The four-week trial yielded 18 hours of deliberations before $17 million in compensatory damages was awarded. Then came the hammer. A $23.6 billion punitive judgment. The amount, while fun to think about, will almost certainly be reduced. As Frances Robles explained:
Such efforts by the industry are often successful. In October 2002, a Los Angeles jury awarded $28 billion in punitive damages against Philip Morris USA. In August 2011, an appeals court reduced the punitive damages to $28 million.
FL jury slams RJ Reynolds with $23.6B in damages: A Florida jury has slammed the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. with... http://t.co/TCSBlRbPDb— PHX Breaking News (@phxdailynews) July 19, 2014