Last week, a jury of her peers awarded a lone human, Cynthia Robinson, over $23.6 billion to punish a cigarette company for the death of her husband. And poof, they were no longer her peers—that is, unless they happened to be the only jury in history to be composed entirely of multi-billionaires.
The rest of America—depending on its feelings about corporate malfeasance versus individual responsibility—was cornered into only one of two positions when it heard the exorbitant pile of punitive damages the defendant, RJ Reynolds, was told to pony up: either shows ’em right! Or, are you kidding me?!
Even the plaintiff thought the jurors were pulling her leg. Or rather, according toreports, she thought they had said “million,” not “billion,” and she had to be assured her ears were deceiving her. Had it been a scant $23.6 million, she was still more than ready to pop some victory champagne. “I got so excited,” she said. If the 23 billion-with-a-“b” amount stands—23,623,718,906 dollars and 62 cents, to be precise—she could buy the champagne industry. (It won’t. The payday will likely be reduced on appeal, as was a similar $28 billion verdict a decade ago, subsequently reduced to $28 million. In the law, one must mind one’s b’s and m’s.)