Cases & Deals

R.J. Reynolds wins complete defense verdict reversing $23.4 billion punitive damages award

Client(s) R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company

On June 24, 2019, following eleven days of trial, a jury in Pensacola, Florida returned a defense verdict in favor of Jones Day client R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in a retrial of a wrongful death action.

The plaintiff in Robinson, the spouse of a deceased former smoker, claimed that her late husband was a member of the class decertified by the Florida Supreme Court in Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc., 945 So. 2d 1246 (Fla. 2006) and therefore entitled to the benefit of certain generalized findings of liability made in the Engle class action trial. This lawsuit was first tried in 2014 with another law firm representing Reynolds, and that trial resulted in a much-publicized $23.4 billion verdict for the plaintiff. After that trial, Reynolds asked Jones Day to handle the post-trial proceedings and the appeal, which resulted in a reversal of the original verdict and a new trial.

In the second trial in June 2019, with Jones Day representing Reynolds, the plaintiff asserted claims for strict liability, negligence, fraudulent concealment, and conspiracy and sought compensatory damages of $15 million for herself and the decedent's surviving son, as well as punitive damages. Before closing arguments, the court granted Reynolds' motion for directed verdict on the plaintiff's fraudulent concealment and conspiracy claims. After only sixty-seven minutes of deliberations, the jury returned a complete defense verdict on the remaining claims, finding that the decedent was not a member of the decertified Engle class.

Cynthia Robinson, as personal representative of the Estate of Michael Johnson, Sr. v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., No. 2008-CA-0098 (Fla. 1st Cir.)