The second-largest U.S. tobacco company, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., announced that it will appeal the jury verdict that it pay $23.6 billion to the widow of a smoker who died of lung cancer, local media reported Sunday.
The award is "grossly excessive and impermissible under state and constitutional law," said Reynolds executive J. Jeffery Raborn of the damages awarded in a Florida court.
"This verdict goes far beyond the realm of reasonableness and fairness, and is completely inconsistent with the evidence presented," Raborn, Reynolds vice president and assistant general counsel, 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," he added.
The jury decided on Saturday evening to award the huge amount Cynthia Robinson, who in 2008 had filed a lawsuit in the name of her deceased husband, Michael Johnson, a longtime smoker, against the giant cigarette maker.
The jury decided that the company should pay an indemnity of $17 million, to which it added $23.6 billion in additional damages, in one of the largest sentences against a U.S. tobacco firm.
The trial, which lasted four weeks, ended Saturday in Jacksonville, Florida.
One of Robinson's lawyers, Christopher Chestnut, said that "the jury wanted to send a statement that tobacco cannot continue to lie to the American people and ... government about the addictiveness of and the deadly chemicals in their cigarettes."
The case comes after the Florida Supreme Court in 2006 rejected a class action suit against "Big Tobacco" for $145 billion, but it ruled that smokers and their families only need to prove their addiction and that tobacco consumption caused their illness or death to be able prevail in court. EFE