Tobacco Company Told To Pay $23.6B In Lawsuit

The R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. has been hit with a $23.6 billion ruling from a lawsuit brought by a chain smoker's widow.

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The R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company was hit last week with a stunningly high judgment in a lawsuit brought by a woman whose husband died from lung cancer. The judgment was more than $23.5 billion. But as NPR's Sam Sanders reports, the final payout isn't likely to actually be that big.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Cynthia Robinson filed the suit. She says her husband, a chain smoker, started when he was just 13 years old. He was 36 when he died. Robinson told The Today Show even she was surprised by the verdict.

(SOUNDBITE OF "THE TODAY SHOW")

CYNTHIA ROBINSON: First, I heard millions. I didn't know it was B - with a B - billions. And I still can't believe it.

PATRICK REYNOLDS: This huge judgment is almost certainly going to be reduced during the appeals process.

SANDERS: Patrick Reynolds runs the anti-smoking group, tobaccofree.org. He's actually the grandson of R.J. Reynolds. Patrick Reynolds says the average payout on lawsuits like these ends up at less than $20 million - with an M. But this verdict, and others, still matter.

REYNOLDS: These cases against big tobacco are going to cause tobacco companies to raise the price of cigarettes. And as they do that, they're going to become more and more out of reach of our kids.

SANDERS: R.J. Reynolds says it will fight the ruling. In a statement, the company said it is "beyond the realm of reasonableness and fairness." Sam Sanders, NPR News.

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