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Florida Jury Awards $23.6 Billion in Punitive Damages against R.J. Reynolds

By Kelly Anthony, Esq.

A Florida jury reprimanded R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company by awarding a plaintiff, Cynthia Robinson, the widow of a long-time smoker who died of lung cancer in 1996, with $16.8 million in compensatory damages and $23.6 billion in punitive damages.

The case, captioned Robinson v. R.J. Reynolds, is one of thousands filed after the Florida Supreme Court's reversal of a $145 billion punitive damage award in Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc. in 2006. In Engle, Florida's highest court partially decertified the class of Floridians who brought claims against tobacco companies, ruling that there needed to be individual case determinations regarding the issues of legal causation, comparative fault, and damages. However, the Florida Supreme Court held that several of the significant findings by the Engle jury would be given res judicata effect in any subsequent trial between individual class members and the tobacco manufacturers, Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, Liggett Group or Lorillard, including: that cigarettes are unreasonably dangerous; cigarettes cause numerous types of cancer and diseases; nicotine is addictive; Big Tobacco has acted negligently; and that even though they knew about these dangers, tobacco companies intentionally concealed information from consumers about the impact of cigarettes on their health.

According to USA Today, the jury deliberated for 15 hours following a nearly four-week trial prior to determining that the tobacco company was negligent in informing Cynthia Robinson's husband, Michael Johnson, Sr., that smoking causes lung cancer and that nicotine is highly addictive.

The award bestowed upon Cynthia Robinson by the Pensacola jury is the largest verdict issued thus far in any individual lawsuit belonging to the Engle progeny. BBC News reported that Ms. Robison's attorney, Willie Gary, hoped "that this verdict will send a message to R.J. Reynolds and other big tobacco companies that will force them to stop putting the lives of innocent people in jeopardy." Nevertheless, attorneys for R.J. Reynolds have already contended that they intend to appeal the sizeable verdict.

Timothy E. Zerillo has been included in every edition of New England Super Lawyers since 2010, for his Super Lawyers page, go to http://www.superlawyers.com/maine/lawyer/Timothy-E-Zerillo/ab011be9-fc96-44e9-ad28-3956da48c1b4.html

Timothy E. Zerillo has a 10 out of 10 rating from AVVO.com - for his ratings page, go to http://www.avvo.com/attorneys/04112-me-timothy-zerillo-1844626.html

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