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Sad Story Played Unfair Role in Smoker’s Award

(CN) - A jury that awarded $79.2 million to the family of a smoker improperly relied on heart-wrenching, but unrelated, testimony, a Florida appeals court ruled.

Diane Webb sued R.J. Reynolds Tobacco over the death of her father, James Cayce Horner. She made claims of wrongful death, fraud and negligence.

Horner, a longtime smoker of Reynolds' products, died of lung cancer in 1996.

A Levy County court awarded the Horner estate $7.2 million in compensatory damages and $72 million in punitive damages.

On Monday, however, the First District Florida Court of Appeal struck that damages award as excessive.

The three-judge panel noted that the jury heard testimony of how Horner had helped care for his granddaughter, Webb's daughter Venetia, up until the 25-pound 13-year-old died of a rare chromosomal disorder.

"The amount of compensatory damages suggests an award that is the product of passion, an emotional response to testimony regarding difficulties Ms. Webb and her father faced and overcame before cancer befell him, rather than evidence of his illness, subsequent death and the noneconomic consequences of the death itself," Chief Justice Robert Benton II wrote on behalf of the Tallahassee-based court.

"In the circumstances, however, the compensatory damages award is more than the evidence at trial reasonably supports and shocks the judicial conscience," he added.

On remand, the court must hold a new trial on damages.

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