RJR Challenges $23.6-Billion Jury Verdict

Company exec calls Florida ruling “grossly excessive and impermissible”

Published in CSP Daily News

R.J. Reynolds

MIAMI -- The nation’s No. 2 cigarette maker is vowing to fight a jury verdict of $23.6 billion in punitive damages in a lawsuit filed by the widow of a longtime smoker who died of lung cancer, according to an Associated Press report.

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. executive J. Jeffery Raborn called the damages awarded by a Pensacola jury “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,” Raborn, a company vice president and assistant general counsel, said in a statement. “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.”

One of the widow’s attorneys said the verdict Friday night sends a powerful message to tobacco companies.

“The jury wanted to send a statement that tobacco cannot continue to lie to the American people and the American government about the addictiveness of and the deadly chemicals in their cigarettes,” said Christopher Chestnut, one of the attorneys representing Cynthia Robinson, according to the report.

The case is one of thousands filed in Florida after the state Supreme Court in 2006 threw 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.

The damages awarded to Robinson after a four-week trial came in addition to $16.8 million in compensatory damages awarded Thursday.

Robinson individually sued Reynolds in 2008 on behalf of her late husband, Michael Johnson Sr., who died in 1996.

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