Month: July 2014

$23.6 Billion Lawsuit Winner to Big Tobacco: “Are You Awake Now?

“Are you awake now? Do you hear what the jury is saying? You have to stop,” Cynthia Robinson wants to tell the tobacco industry. The Florida widow recently won a $23.6 billion lawsuit against tobacco company R.J. Reynolds, one of the largest recent judgments on the industry, and in an interview with TIME, she says she hopes they listen to the jury’s message.

Robinson’s husband Michael Johnson died in 1996 at age of 36 from lung cancer, and in her lawsuit against R.J. Reynolds, she and her attorneys argued that the company was aware that cigarettes were addictive and caused lung cancer, but was negligent in telling smokers like Johnson about those risks.

Johnson got hooked on cigarettes when he was just 13-years-old, and eventually smoked up to three packs a day, often lighting his next cigarette with the burning end of the one he just finished. “He was a quiet person. He read the Bible every day, he took the kids swimming, he mowed the yards of all the elderly neighbors,” Robinson says. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1995 and lived for almost a year in constant pain. “The pain [from the cancer] was always there. When you’re on oxygen and you have to step outside for a cigarette, you can’t stop. You’re addicted.”

Johnson tried multiple times to stop smoking with no success. During one of her husband’s hospital visits, Robinson knew something was wrong when he began sweating and one of his eyes started to droop. The doctor said he would live for only a couple of months, but he survived for 10 more months. “He suffocated and died for so long, it was awful,” says Robinson, recalling how hard it was for her husband to breathe in the months before his death.

Florida jury awards $23.6 billion in smoking lawsuit

A Florida jury awarded a widow $23.6 billion in punitive damages in her lawsuit against tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, her lawyer said.

Cynthia Robinson claimed that smoking killed her husband, Michael Johnson, in 1996. She argued R.J. Reynolds was negligent in not informing him that nicotine is addictive and smoking can cause lung cancer. Johnson started smoking when he was 13 and died of lung cancer when he was 36.

The jury award Friday evening is “courageous,” said Robinson’s lawyer, Christopher Chestnut.

“If anyone saw the documents that this jury saw, I believe that person would have awarded a similar or greater verdict amount,” he said.

The Escambia County trial took four weeks and the jury deliberated for 15 hours, according to the Pensacola News Journal. The verdict included more than $16 million in compensatory damages, the newspaper said.

Nine ex-smokers on their last cigarette

Chestnut said five of the six jurors who heard the case were 45 or younger, which meant he had to show them how the tobacco industry presented its product before the public awareness campaigns on tobacco risks and dangers in the 1990s.

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