A US court has ordered the country’s second largest cigarette company to pay $23.6 billion (£13.8bn) to the wife of a smoker who died of lung cancer.
RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company was hit with the punitive fine in addition to $16.8m (£9.8m) in compensatory damages.
Cynthia Robinson took action against the firm in 2008, seeking compensation for her husband’s death in 1996.
A company official said the verdict was “grossly excessive and impermissible under state and constitutional law.”
During the four-week trial, lawyers for Ms Robinson argued that RJ Reynolds was negligent in informing consumers of the dangers of consuming tobacco.
This negligence, the lawyers said, led to her husband Michael Johnson Sr contracting lung cancer from smoking after becoming “addicted” and failing multiple attempts to quit.
‘A message for tobacco firms’
“RJ Reynolds took a calculated risk by manufacturing cigarettes and selling them to consumers without properly informing them of the hazards,” Ms Robinson’s lawyer Willie Gary said.
“We hope that this verdict will send a message to RJ Reynolds and other big tobacco companies that will force them to stop putting the lives of innocent people in jeopardy,” he added.
RJ Reynolds plans to appeal against the court’s decision, vice president and assistant general counsel Jeffery Raborn said in a statement.
“This verdict goes far beyond the realm of reasonableness and fairness, and is completely inconsistent with the evidence presented,” he said.
“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 punitive damages awarded to Ms Robinson were said to be the largest of any individual case stemming from a class action lawsuit filed in Florida.
Several similar cases have resulted in smaller payouts after the state’s highest court ruled that smokers and their families only had to prove addiction and that smoking caused their illness.