A Florida widow, awarded $23.6 billion in the death of her chain-smoking husband, on Monday called the massive verdict a message to Big Tobacco, even though she likely won’t see much if any of the money.
The punitive damages — $23,623,718,906.62, to be precise — almost certainly will be significantly reduced on appeal, if not thrown out entirely, legal experts and industry analysts said. In another major tobacco trial, a $28 billion verdict in a 2002 case in Los Angeles turned into $28 million after appeals.
The figure is a pointed, dramatic gesture, said Cynthia Robinson of Pensacola, whose husband took up smoking at 13 and died of lung cancer at 36.
“It’s over. R.J. Reynolds got knocked in the head. They have to own up to it — they have not, they probably won’t, but it’s justice,” Robinson told The Associated Press.
Some legal experts even suggested the jurors in Florida, home to most of the nation’s remaining lawsuits against Big Tobacco, may have been savvy enough to know their sky-high sum won’t stand but did it anyway to make a point.
Robinson said her husband spent the 10 months after his diagnosis in pain, sweating and coughing up blood. She said she still remembers “that cancer smell” and the way he died in a pool of blood in their home.
“And they’ve got the nerve to say, ‘Michael chose to do this,’” Robinson said. “They knew exactly what they were doing. Now they have to pay for it.”
R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. plans to appeal the punitive damages that a Pensacola jury awarded late Friday on top of $16.8 million in compensatory damages.