*In what can only be called a jaw-dropping decision, a Pensacola jury has sent a strong message to R.J. Reynolds Tobacco company (and others) by hitting them with a staggering $23.6 billion punitive damages payout in a lawsuit brought by the widow of a chain smoker killed by lung cancer in 1996.
Cynthia Robinson, the widow of Michael Johnson Sr., who died at 36, was given another $16.8 million in compensatory damages Friday, following a four-week trial that left a top Reynolds executive fuming.
RJ Reynolds’ VP and assistant general counsel, J. Jeffrey Raborn, vowed to appeal the verdict, stating that it goes ‘far beyond the realm of reasonableness and fairness.’
Christopher Chestnut, one of Robinson’s lawyers, explained the intent of the jury, and what was behind the hefty decision.
“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.”
There was a greater concern explained by co-counsel Willie Gary, who said the lawsuit’s goal was to stop all tobacco companies from targeting young consumers with their ads.
“If we don’t get a dime, that’s OK, if we can make a difference and save some lives,” says Chestnut.
Robinson sued on behalf of her husband in 2008. Michael Johnson Sr., started smoking at 13, and the couple married six years before his death at the age of 36. The hotel shuttle bus driver smoked up to three packs a day for two decades — and he went to his grave with a cigarette in his mouth.
Read more of this story at New York Daily News.