Saturday, February 17, 2018
News Roundup

Jury hits R.J. Reynolds with $23.6 billion in punitive damages

MIAMI — A Florida jury has slammed the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. with $23.6 billion in punitive damages in a lawsuit filed by the widow of a longtime smoker who died of lung cancer in 1996.

The case is one of thousands filed in Florida after the state Supreme Court in 2006 tossed out a $145 billion class action verdict. That ruling also said smokers and their families need only prove addiction and that smoking caused their illnesses or deaths.

Last year, Florida's highest court reapproved that decision, which made it easier for sick smokers or their survivors to pursue lawsuits against tobacco companies without having to prove to the court again that Big Tobacco knowingly sold dangerous products and hid the hazards of cigarette smoking.

The damages a Pensacola jury awarded Friday to Cynthia Robinson after a four-week trial come in addition to $16.8 million in compensatory damages.

Robinson individually sued Reynolds, the country's No. 2 cigarette maker, in 2008 on behalf of her late husband, Michael Johnson Sr. Her attorneys said the punitive damages are the largest of any individual case stemming from the original class action lawsuit.

"The jury wanted to send a statement that tobacco cannot continue to lie to the American people and the American government about the addictiveness of and the deadly chemicals in their cigarettes," said one of Cynthia Robinson's attorneys, Christopher Chestnut.

Reynolds' vice president and assistant general counsel, Jeffery Raborn, called the damages in Robinson's case "grossly excessive and impermissible under state and constitutional law."

"This verdict goes far beyond the realm of reasonableness and fairness, and is completely inconsistent with the evidence presented," Raborn said in a statement. "We plan to file post-trial motions with the trial court promptly, and are confident that the court will follow the law and not allow this runaway verdict to stand."

The lawsuit's goal was to stop tobacco companies from targeting children and young people with their advertising, said Willie Gary, another attorney representing Robinson.

"If we don't get a dime, that's okay, if we can make a difference and save some lives," Gary said.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court turned away cigarette manufacturers' appeals of more than $70 million in court judgments to Florida smokers. Reynolds, Philip Morris USA Inc. and Lorillard Tobacco Co. had wanted the court to review cases in which smokers won large damage awards without having to prove that the companies sold a defective and dangerous product or hid the risks of smoking.

The Supreme Court refused to hear another of the companies' appeals last year, wanting the court to consider overturning a $2.5 million Tampa jury verdict in the death of a smoker.

Other Florida juries have hit tobacco companies with tens of millions of dollars in punitive damages in lawsuits stemming from the original class action lawsuit.

In August, a Fort Lauderdale jury awarded $37.5 million, including $22.5 million in punitive damages against Reynolds, to the family of a smoker who died at age 38 of lung cancer in 1995.

Attorneys for Reynolds said they would appeal, arguing that the woman knew the dangers of smoking because cigarettes had warning labels when she started. The attorney for the woman's family said teenagers like her were targeted by tobacco companies.

Some large jury verdicts awarding tens of millions of dollars in damages to relatives of smokers have been upheld by appeals courts.

In September, the 3rd District Court of Appeal affirmed $25 million in punitive damages and $10 million in compensatory damages against Lorillard, the country's No. 3 cigarette maker, for Dorothy Alexander, whose husband died in 1996 of lung cancer. Lorillard, based in Greensboro, N.C., unsuccessfully argued the damages were excessive and raised a number of other claims.

In June 2013, the 1st District Court of Appeal upheld a $20 million punitive damage award to another smoker's widow, more than a year after reversing a $40.8 million award in the same case against Reynolds. After the appeals court rejected the first award as excessive, the award amount was recalculated. The tobacco company still objected.

Philip Morris is the country's biggest tobacco company and is owned by Richmond, Va.-based Altria Group Inc. Reynolds is owned by Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Reynolds American Inc.

Comments
Prosecutor: Death penalty was ‘designed’ for cases like Florida school shooting

Prosecutor: Death penalty was ‘designed’ for cases like Florida school shooting

The 17 counts of premeditated murder against Nikolas Cruz are the type of case "the death penalty was designed for," according to the Florida prosecutor in charge of trying the confessed school shooter.But Michael Satz, the longtime Broward state att...
Updated: 18 minutes ago
Florida, angry and grieving, takes gun protest to streets

Florida, angry and grieving, takes gun protest to streets

PARKLAND, Fla. — Thousands of angry students, parents and residents demanded stricter gun control laws Saturday as new details were revealed about the suspect accused of shooting and killed 17 people in a Florida high school. The rally, held in downt...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Police find dead man in Tampa apartment

TAMPA — Police found a dead man inside an apartment in the 5200 block of Sonora Court Friday after 3 p.m.Who the man is or how long he’s been dead is unclear at this time, police said. The victim appears to have been killed in some sort of "homicidal...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Parkland vigil and rally scheduled for Saturday night in downtown St. Pete

Parkland vigil and rally scheduled for Saturday night in downtown St. Pete

ST. PETERSBURG — A group of activists were scheduled to host a rally in downtown St. Petersburg on Saturday night, demanding lawmakers pass gun control legislation.Organizers said the rally, scheduled for 5 p.m. at Williams Park, was planned in respo...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Divided Congress unable to act on guns, immigration despite public pressure

Divided Congress unable to act on guns, immigration despite public pressure

It’s been five years since the guns and immigration debate collided at the same time on Capitol Hill. This time, the results were even more unproductive.In early 2013, weeks after a gunman killed 20 students and six educators at an elementary school ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Trumpeter is the highlight of a concert featuring ‘West Side Story’ themes

Trumpeter is the highlight of a concert featuring ‘West Side Story’ themes

TAMPA — Leonard Bernstein would have turned 100 this year. The Florida Orchestra performed two of his works Friday, the second of which paired the dances from West Side Story with the overture to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet.The orche...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Woman hit, killed Friday along Memorial Highway

TOWN ’N COUNTRY — A woman died after she was hit by a minivan along Memorial Highway on Friday night, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.The 53-year-old woman, whose identity was not released, was trying to cross Memorial Highway f...
Updated: 2 hours ago
White nationalist appears to disavow connection with shooter

White nationalist appears to disavow connection with shooter

PARKLAND, Fla. — A white nationalist appears to have lied to The Associated Press and other news organizations when he claimed that Florida school-shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz was a member of his obscure group.Law enforcement officials have said the...
Updated: 2 hours ago
How killer’s path through a school left 17 dead in six short minutes of terror

How killer’s path through a school left 17 dead in six short minutes of terror

It was Valentine’s Day across America.At an all-American high school in a green and placid Broward County suburb strung with waterways and golf-course communities, that innocent fact would take on dreadful significance well before the day was out.Bet...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Hillsborough rethinks its strategy for struggling schools

Hillsborough rethinks its strategy for struggling schools

TAMPA — "Elevate," a Hillsborough County School District initiative that was to focus on seven troubled schools and use them as models for dozens more, is becoming but a memory as the district seeks instead to support all schools equally."We’re more ...
Published: 02/17/18