A Florida jury awarded the widow of a cigarette-smoking cancer victim $23.6 billion from RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co., the second-largest tobacco company in the United States.
The case is one of thousands filed in Florida after the state’s highest court tossed out a $145 billion class action verdict.
Michael Johnson Sr., 36, smoked the company’s Kool brand menthol cigarettes for more than 20 years before dying in 1996. His widow, Cynthia Robinson, sued Reynolds in 2006, arguing the company deliberately concealed the health hazards associated with its menthol cigarettes, the New York Times reported.
The trial ended Wednesday after four weeks. The jury deliberated for 18 hours beginning Thursday before returning its verdict late Friday.
"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," Robinson attorney Christopher Chestnut told the Associated Press.
Reynolds Vice President Jeffrey Raborn called the damages “grossly excessive and impermissible under state and constitutional law” in a statement.
Reynolds plans to ask the trial court to reverse the verdict.
Other Florida juries have awarded millions of dollars in damages in other cigarette cases. In August, a Fort Lauderdale jury awarded $37.5 million against Reynolds, including $22.5 million to the family of a smoker who died at age 38 of lung cancer in 1995.
In the early to mid-nineties, litigation in more than 40 states sprang up against the tobacco industry seeking cash repayment for the industry's perceived contribution to health problems among the states' populations. Under an agreement in 1998, the then four-largest tobacco companies in the U.S. including Reynolds agreed to change their marketing practices to better reflect the health risks of using their products and to compensate states for medical expenses of smoking-related illnesses.
RJ Reynolds Co. is owned by Reynolds American Inc. (NYSE: RAI) of North Carolina, which recently announced plans to buy rival Lorillard Inc. (NYSE: LO) for $27.4 billion.