Smoker's Widow Gets $30M Verdict Against R.J. Reynolds

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By David Goguen on June 03, 2009 1:26 PM

Florida Jury Hits Big Tobacco in the Pocketbook

A Florida jury has ordered cigarette maker R.J. Reynolds to pay $30 million in damages to a woman whose husband, a long-time cigarette smoker, died of lung cancer.

Benny Martin of Pensacola, who died in 1995, took up smoking 20 years before cigarette packs carried health warnings, according to lawyers in the case, who argued that R.J. Reynolds hid the health risks of smoking while making cigarettes increasingly addictive.

The Pensacola jury agreed, ordering R.J. Reynolds to pay $5 million in compensatory damages and another $25 million in punitive damages to Martin's widow and family.

The big plaintiff's verdict is the latest Florida court ruling in a string of tobacco product liability lawsuits filed by individuals in the state, after a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision denied class action status to smokers but paved the way for individual plaintiffs to file lawsuits on a case-by-cases basis, as Bloomberg.com points out.

R.J. Reynolds has announced that it will appeal the verdict, the Winston-Salem Journal reports.

The $30 million plaintiff's verdict is the latest big setback for big tobacco companies in their ongoing fight to avoid legal liability for health hazards caused by their products.

Last month, a federal appeals court in D.C. upheld a lower court ruling which found that big tobacco companies engaged in a decades-long pattern of deception over the dangers of smoking, in violation of federal fraud and racketeering laws.

And in March, the U.S. Supreme Court nixed cigarette giant Philip Morris's appeal to overturn a $79.5 million award of punitive damages order in Oregon, which also was won by the widow of a cigarette smoker.