A Florida court has ordered a new trial in a lawsuit against Winston-Salem-based R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. A lower court had originally awarded plaintiff Cynthia Robinson $23 billion.
The suit is what's called an Engle case. In Florida, some residents who have gotten sick or had relatives killed by smoking-related illness are eligible to sue tobacco manufacturers. Those who win might be awarded a few million dollars. That's why the Robinson case is so extraordinary.
In theory, a $23 billion hit to Reynolds could be a severe blow to the company. But once the appeals process – which includes this new trial – is concluded, it's much more likely that the final award in the case will be significantly reduced, or even zeroed out.
According to Richard Craver at the Winston-Salem Journal, Reynolds doesn't appear to see cases like this as a significant financial threat.
“They seem to feel like they can pursue these cases, even with the legal expense. And certainly, they have won a number of these Engle cases,” Craver says. “So it is certainly understandable why they would take that approach.”
Craver says Reynolds went to trial 120 times in Florida and federal courts between 2014 and 2016.