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A Florida Widow Sued A Tobacco Company And Won $23.6 Billion

The woman sued R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the second largest tobacco company in the U.S., for the death of her husband.

Posted on July 20, 2014, at 1:18 a.m. ET

Chris Keane / Reuters

A Florida jury handed down a massive $23.6 billion judgment Friday against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the second largest cigarette producer in the U.S.

The damages were awarded to Cynthia Robinson, who sued Reynolds on behalf of her husband Michael Johnson Sr., a longtime smoker. Johnson died of lung cancer in 1996, the Associated Press reports. Robinson filed her lawsuit in 2008 and Friday's award comes at the conclusion of a four-week trial.

The jury also awarded Robinson $16.8 million in compensatory damages.

Robinson's lawyers said their goal was to stop tobacco companies from targeting children.

Christopher Chestnut, an attorney representing Robinson, told the AP the verdict sends a statement to tobacco companies that they "cannot continue to lie to the American people and the American government about the addictiveness of and the deadly chemicals in their cigarettes." Another attorney said that Robinson and her team were more interested in making a difference than collecting the money.

It's unclear how much of the award Robinson might actually collect, or when she might collect it.

Reynolds' representatives said the huge award violated the law and was "grossly excessive." The company plans to file a series of motions opposing the decision. Those motions — as well as appeals, which Reynolds also plans to file — will delay any actual payout to Robinson.

However, tobacco companies have faired poorly during appeals in recent cases. For example, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a case from several tobacco companies last month in which Florida smokers had won $70 million. The Supreme Court also refused to hear an appeal from tobacco companies last year.

In June 2013, an appeals court upheld a $20 million award in a case against Reynolds, the AP reports. However, the court had previously ruled that a $40.8 million award in the same case was excessive.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Reynolds makes Camel, Pall Mall, Winston, and Salem cigarettes, among others.

The company is based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and has plans to get bigger. On Tuesday, it announced that it would buy Lorillard Tobacco Co., the third-largest cigarette producer in the U.S., for $25 billion. Lorillard makes Newport Cigarettes, which are the second-most popular brand in the U.S.

The deal to consolidate the two companies is expected to wrap up next year.