R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the nation's second-largest cigarette maker, is vowing to fight a verdict of $23.6 billion in punitive damages to the widow of a smoker who died of lung cancer.
Calling the massive award "grossly excessive and impermissible under state and constitutional law," the tobacco company's CEO, J. Jefferey Raborn, said the verdict was "beyond the realm of reasonableness and fairness, and is completely inconsistent with the evidence presented."
"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," he said.
The verdict, issued by a jury in Pensacola, Fla., on Friday stems from a suit brought by Cynthia Robinson, whose husband, Michael Johnson Sr., died of lung cancer in 1996 at age 36. Johnson started smoking when he was 13.
Robinson was also awarded another $16.8 million in compensatory damages.
Co-counsel for the plaintiff, Willie Gary, said the lawsuit's goal was to stop 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," Gary said.
"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," Christopher Chestnut, another of Robinson's attorneys, said.
As background, The Associated Press writes:
"Robinson individually sued Reynolds in 2008 on behalf of her late husband. ... Her attorneys said the punitive damages are the largest of any individual case stemming from the original class action lawsuit.
"The verdict came the same week that Reynolds American Inc., which owns R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, announced it was purchasing Lorillard Tobacco Co., the country's No. 3 cigarette maker, in a $25 billion deal. That would create a tobacco company second only in the U.S. to Marlboro maker Altria Group Inc., which owns Philip Morris USA Inc. and is based in Richmond, Virginia."