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Chain Smoker's Widow Awarded $23Bn In Punitive Damages In Florida

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http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/jul/20/chain-smokers-widow-awarded-23bn-in-punitive-damages-in-florida

A jury in Florida has awarded the widow of a chain smoker who died of lung cancer 18 years ago record punitive damages of more than $23bn against America's second-biggest cigarette maker, RJ Reynolds.

The judgment, returned on Friday night, was the largest in Florida history in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by a single plaintiff, said Ryan Julison, a spokesman for the woman's lawyer, Chris Chestnut.

Cynthia Robinson, of Pensacola, sued the cigarette maker in 2008 over the death of her husband, Michael Johnson, claiming the company conspired to conceal the health dangers and addictive nature of its products.

Johnson, a hotel shuttle-bus driver who died of lung cancer in 1996 aged 36, smoked between one and three packets a day for more 20 years, starting at age 13, Chestnut said.

“He couldn't quit. He was smoking the day he died,” the lawyer told Reuters on Saturday.

After a four-week trial and 11 hours of deliberations, the jury returned a verdict granting compensatory damages of $7.3m to the widow and the couple's child, and $9.6m to Johnson's son from a previous relationship.

The same jury deliberated for another seven hours before awarding Robinson the additional sum of $23.6bn in punitive damages, according to the verdict forms.

Do they have the money to pay out these damages if it's upheld? $23.6bn is just nuts for one person.

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Nuts for one person, indeed. But could it be a better way to tackle the drugs barons than the violence that surrounds other drugs?

These awards have hitherto always been slashed on appeal. If she's canny, she might try and make that unpopular by pledging the money to charity.

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