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Florida jury hands down $40 billion verdict against tobacco company

[JURIST] A jury for the First Judicial Circuit of Florida [official website] on Friday handed down a verdict against RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co. [corporate website], awarding the plaintiff $16.8 billion in compensatory damages, and $23.6 billion in punitive damages. The case, Cynthia Robinson v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, was originally part of a larger class-action lawsuit for smoking-related injuries. However, the Florida Supreme Court [official website] ruled in Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc. [opinion] that the causation of smoking-related injuries was too individualized for a class action lawsuit, and required plaintiffs to file their cases individually with the courts. Robinson brought the case [USA Today report] after her husband, Michael Johnson Sr., became addicted to cigarettes, and contracted and later died of lung cancer. According to one of Robinson's attorneys, even in the 1950s and 60s Reynolds knew that its tobacco products were addictive and harmful, but marketed the cigarettes as safe. RJ Reynolds intends to challenge the damages [AP report], calling them "grossly excessive and impermissible under state and constitutional law."

Cigarette labeling [JURIST news archive] has been a controversial legal issue recently. In December the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied a request for rehearing [JURIST report] on a decision holding that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [official website] rule on graphic cigarette label warnings exceeded the FDA's statutory authority and undermined tobacco companies' economic autonomy. In March 2012 the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled [JURIST report] that the graphic cigarette label warnings are constitutional. The court decided unanimously that the portions of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FSPTCA) [HR 1256 text] designed to limit the tobacco industry's ability to advertise to children, including a ban on distributing clothing and goods with logos or brand names, as well as sponsorship of cultural, athletic and social events requiring cigarette packaging and advertisements, is a valid restriction of commercial speech.

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