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Florida Jury Awards $23.6 Billion To Widow In Smoking Death Lawsuit


On July 18, 2014, Florida became the state in the nation to provide for the largest amount of damages ever in a wrongful death claim related to smoking. A jury awarded more than $23 billion in damages in a suit filed against R.J. Reynolds, the second-largest tobacco company in the United States.

Michael Johnson, Sr., died of lung cancer at the age of 36 after a lifetime of smoking. His death left his widow distraught and challenged to care for their two children. Her case is one of many thousands regarding smoking that have entered the books in Florida over the last several years.

According to a 2006 ruling by Florida’s State Supreme Court, plaintiffs who are suing tobacco companies need only prove that a deceased party was addicted to cigarette smoking and that smoking caused his or her death.

Although a huge selection of cases involving tobacco-related illness and wrongful death have been on the books in Florida, the immense amount of money in play has sent this particular case skyrocketing to the top of the headlines.

Let’s take a closer look at all of the relevant details.

What Were The Key Details In The $23.6 Billion Case In Florida?

The trial lasted four weeks and included about eighteen hours of deliberation by a jury before the initial award of $17 million in compensatory damages. Compensatory damages go to the plaintiff in a case and are intended to cover various expenses:

  • Final expenses such as burial and funeral expenses.
  • Medical expenses of a sick or deceased individual.
  • The value of lost benefits and wages from future employment.
  • Physical pain and suffering as well as mental anguish.

The $23.6 billion — which will almost certainly be reduced — is part of the punitive damages in the case. Punitive damages can sometimes be awarded at the discretion of a jury when the jurors feel that the entity bearing responsibility for a wrongful death acted in a way that was “intentional, reckless, or grossly negligent.”

Punitive damages also go to a plaintiff, but have a very different purpose. While compensatory damages are intended to “make right” the direct costs of another’s actions, punitive damages are intended to create an incentive for the defendant to ensure that “it never happens again.”

What Will Happen With This Unusual Case Now?

Odds are good that the amount awarded in this case will ultimately be reduced. However, there is a powerful message being sent here to defendants who may have felt that they were beyond any form of punishment for negligent actions.

It is very likely that the plaintiff in the case will still receive a very significant sum, although the process may take some time. The defendant is sure to fight hard against the existing judgment.

Needless to say, the amount involved makes this a landmark judgment and an interesting case. It also sends a very clear message to those who are struggling with the consequences of wrongful injury or death: Take your case to court.

Are Florida Juries Unpredictable? Not With The Right Florida Attorneys On Your Side

At Goldman Babboni & Walsh, we know that getting the results you want in a Florida court can be filled with sophisticated legal challenges. Luckily, our attorneys bring you decades of experience within Florida’s many jurisdictions. We understand Florida best!

Whether you’re in St. Petersburg, Bradenton, Venice, or Sarasota, look to our team for the top minds in Florida legal representation. All you need to do to get the important answers you need is give our office a call today. We look forward to helping you resolve your case effectively.

Don’t wait: The sooner you retain counsel, the more we can do for you.

Attorney David Goldman has a strong belief that everyone should be treated fairly and those with the means should do what they can to bring justice in all areas of our society. That belief has led him to help Florida's injured from being taken advantage of by corporations and insurance companies. Since 1989 David Goldman has been fighting for the rights of Floridians both as an attorney and by personally supporting our community.

Florida Jury Awards $23.6 Billion To Widow In Smoking Death Lawsuit

Goldman Babboni Fernandez
Murphy & Walsh




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