Woman Awarded $25 Million in Punitive Damages from Tobacco Company for Husband’s Death

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A Florida state appeals court recently upheld the decision to award Dorothy Alexander $25 million in punitive damages and $8 million in compensatory damages for the death of her husband. She claimed that Lorillard Tobacco Co. showed reckless disregard for her husband’s safety by trying to discredit scientific research that revealed the harm of cigarettes through advertising and public relations campaigns for economic gain. Her husband began smoking in the 6th grade and passed away at age 59.

People harmed by a product have the right to sue those at fault for compensation, whether the product harmed them at work or was the cause of a car accident or other incident. Whether the defective product results in a stomach ache, a fender-bender or a catastrophic injury or death, many states, including Florida and Minnesota, allow victims to be awarded two types of damages.

Compensatory damages

Compensatory damages are the most common and most easily calculable type of compensation given to those injured because of the fault of someone else. These damages are meant to compensate the plaintiff for actual losses suffered as a direct result of the incident. There are two types of compensatory damages: economic and noneconomic. Examples of economic compensation include:

  • Reimbursement for medical expenses
  • Replacement of lost wages or lost capacity for work
  • Reimbursement for funeral and burial expenses
  • Compensation for household services

Noneconomic damages are harder to quantify because they compensate for damages such as loss of quality of life, pain and suffering, and loss of consortium.

Punitive damages

Punitive damages vary in the amount allowed from state to state and are not applicable in every case. They are meant to punish serious negligence or misbehavior, and the amount is determined by the defendant’s conduct and wealth instead of the plaintiff’s injuries or harm. For example, large corporations are subject to larger punitive damages than small companies or individuals because it would be less crippling to them. Florida law awards punitive damages if it can be proven that the defendant acted with “intentional misconduct or gross negligence.”