Tobacco suit sets record in Fla. county

John O'Brien Mar. 17, 2010, 3:52pm

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (Legal Newsline) - A Florida jury has awarded more than $17 million to a widow whose husband died in 1995 after a lifetime of smoking cigarettes.

The Gainesville Sun said the $17.5 million verdict against R.J. Reynolds is the largest in Alachua County history. The trial came more than three years after a Florida Supreme Court decision caused a class of smokers to file their suits individually.

The Engle decision also overturned a $145 billion punitive damages award, but plaintiffs have been successful in several cases since then.

Before a deadline, 4,500 suits were brought on behalf of those who died from a tobacco-related disease or suffered from one before Nov. 21, 1996.

The Sun reported that 10 of 12 cases that have been tried have gone to the plaintiffs.

R.J. Reynolds earned a defense verdict a year ago in Pinellas County.

J. Jeffery Raborn, vice president and assistant general counsel for R.J. Reynolds, said at the time that the verdict "demonstrates that despite the flawed decision of the Florida Supreme Court to allow these cases to proceed in this fashion, we have strong defenses to them and we will continue to defend ourselves vigorously."

The Alachua County verdict included $12 million in punitive damages. The lawsuits concern the addiction capabilities of cigarettes.

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