RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company ordered to pay out $23.6 billionxvaughanx/Flickr

America's second largest cigarette company, RJ Reynolds, was ordered to pay $23.6bn (£13.8bn) in punitive damages to the widow of a chain-smoker who died of lung cancer.

Cynthia Robinson, of Pensacola, Florida, sued RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, whose brands include Camel, over the death of her husband, Michael Johnson in 2008.

It is believed to be the largest individual lawsuit settlement in the state's history.

A jury found the firm was negligent in warning her husband, who used to smoke up to 60 cigarettes a day for more 20 years, that smoking causes lung cancer. He died of the disease aged 36.

"He couldn't quit. He was smoking the day he died," Robinson's lawyer Chris Chestnut told Reuters.

But the firm is vowing to fight the jury's verdict calling it "grossly excessive and impermissible under state and constitutional law".

"This verdict goes far beyond the realm of reasonableness and fairness and is completely inconsistent with the evidence presented," said Jeffery Raborn, the vice-president and assistant general counsel for RJ Reynolds.

"We plan to file post-trial motions with the trial court promptly, and are confident that the court will follow the law and not allow this runaway verdict to stand."

Compensatory damages of $7.3m (£4.2m) were also awarded to Robinson and the couple's child, and $9.6m (£5.6m) to her husband's son from a previous relationship.

Willie Gary, Robinson's other lawyer said: "RJ Reynolds took a calculated risk by manufacturing cigarettes and selling them to consumers without properly informing them of the hazards.

"We hope that this verdict will send a message to RJ Reynolds and other big tobacco companies that will force them to stop putting the lives of innocent people in jeopardy."