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£13.4bn lawsuit awarded to widow of chain smoker against tobacco giant



Cynthia Robinson, who lost her husband in 1998 to lung cancer, has been awarded $23.6 billion (£13.4bn) in punitive damages after launching a lawsuit against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company – whom she blames for her husband’s death.

On the grounds of wrongful-death, Robinson believes the tobacco giant was negligent in selling cigarettes that cause disease, addiction and are generally defective.

Her late husband began smoking when he was 13, and smoked up to three packs a day. He died in 1998 at the age of 36 from lung cancer. Robinson’s lawyer told Reuters earlier this week that “He couldn’t quit. He was smoking the day he died.”

The Florida court announced the largest wrongful-death settlement filed by a single plaintiff in the state’s history earlier this week, after the case began in 2008 when Robison sued the tobacco company – America’s second largest cigarette manufacturer.

The court case lasted four weeks, and the jury originally granted Robinson and the couple’s child $7.3 million (£4.3m) and gave $9.6m (£5.6m) to Mr Johnson’s son from a previous relationship.

Mrs Robinson was then granted a further $23.6bn ($13.4bn) in punitive damages, according to the verdict forms.

However, Reynolds Tobacco Company will be appealing the case. J. Jeffery Raborn, vice president and assistant general counsel for R.J. Reynolds, referred to the judgement as a “runaway verdict.” These industry appeals tend to be successful.

The case was originally part of a lawsuit brought against tobacco companies in 1994, known as the ‘Engle Case’.

Originally regarded as a large class-action litigation, it was successful in obtaining $145bn (£85bn) in punitive damages – but was thrown out in 2006 by an overruling from the Florida Supreme Court. The decision was based on the differing reasons to why the individual smokers started smoking. Robison was thus advised to sue on an individual basis.

Photo: Aldon Scott McLeod via Free Images

Further Reading:

Tobacco industry maintaining ‘predatory practices’ in move towards e-cigarettes

Australia smoking rates drop as plain package cigarette laws take effect

Big tobacco giants Reynolds and Lorillard in $56bn merger

Medical professionals call for speeding up of plain cigarette packaging plans

Tobacco: investing in death