A Florida woman recently received the largest single-person settlement in personal injury law history on July 18, 2014. What makes her settlement even more remarkable was that her husband was a smoker who died over 18 years ago.
Of course, statute of limitations for many personal injury claims place limits on how long after an injury or death takes place a person can sue. In Idaho, for instance, the statute of limitations for personal injury claims, medical malpractice, and wrongful death is 2 years.
The woman, named Cynthia Robinson sued the R.J. Reynolds tobacco company (the company that produces Camel, Kool, Winston, and Pall Mall cigarettes) for punitive damages related to her husband’s death from smoking cigarettes.
Ms. Robinson claimed that the company had taken malicious measures to conceal the health dangers and the addictive nature of cigarettes. Her husband, Michael Johnson smoked anywhere from one to three packs a day for over twenty years.
The initial trial awarded Ms. Robinson and her son 7.3 million dollars in compensatory damages, with 9.6 million dollars in compensatory damages going to Johnson’s son from a prior relationship. Compensatory damages are meant to recover lost wages, loss of consortium, pain and suffering, and funeral expenses following a wrongful death or personal injury. Loss of consortium is a form of compensatory damage that is awarded to family members when a loved one is injured or killed due to negligence or due to the fault of the defendant. When a loved one loses the companionship, support, and comfort that a conjugal or parental relationship brings, the courts afford individuals the right to receive compensatory damages for these losses.
What is remarkable, in this case, however, was the award for punitive damages. Punitive damages are put in place to punish an offending individual or corporation, and to prevent the individual or corporation from engaging in similar behavior in the future. Here, the jury awarded the family 23.6 billion dollars in punitive damages. Even though the company is ISO certified, they will still have the punitive damages from this individual.
The personal injury and wrongful death lawyer mounted a strong case that featured the advertisements the R.J. Reynolds company used to acquire new smokers and customers. The advertisements were geared toward younger individuals. Given that Michael Johnson started smoking at age 13, the jury was swayed by the case.
Initially Ms. Robinson’s suit was one of many in a class-action suit called the Engle Case. In this case, the jury awarded victims of the class-action suit $145 billion in punitive damages. However, the Florida Supreme Court overturned the ruling, claiming that the reasons why each individual smoked were unique to each person and that each case should be treated on an individual basis. Ms. Robinson’s suit is her response to the Florida Supreme Court’s revocation of the initial class-action judgment.
In any case, the settlement highlights the fact that punitive damages, in some cases, can far exceed compensatory damages, especially in wrongful death claims and in cases of personal injury. Courts are more likely to award punitive damages in cases where the defendants had the opportunity to make money off of their wrongful actions.
If you or a loved one has suffered from a personal injury or wrongful death in Boise or Meridian Idaho, you need personal injury lawyers like Johnson & Lundgreen. We have years of experience helping clients seek the maximum possible damages allowable under the law. Contact us today for a free initial consultation to learn about how you can seek justice and compensation for your injuries, pain and suffering, or loss.