Verdict Goes RJR’s Way In Latest Engle Progeny Trial

Verdict Goes RJR’s Way In Latest Engle Progeny Trial

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - (Mealey's) On Aug. 26, a Florida jury returned a verdict of no liability for a cigarette company that was sued by the son of a deceased smoker in the latest Engle progeny case, one of only a handful of defense verdicts to date (Jason Budnick v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., No. CACE07036734, Fla. Cir., 17th Judicial Cir., Broward Co.).

Musician Lenny Budnick died of lung cancer in 1996 at age 52 after 30 years of allegedly smoking a pack of Camel cigarettes a day.  Despite being diabetic, he continued to smoke even after he was diagnosed with lung cancer and emphysema.

His son, Jason Budnick, brought claims against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. (RJR), which makes the Camel brand, in the 17th Judicial Circuit Court for Broward County as a former member of the class in Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc. (945 So.2d 1246 [Fla. Sup. 2006], cert denied, 128 S.Ct. 96 [2007]) that was broken up by the Florida Supreme Court in 2006.

According to Jason Budnick, the decedent was addicted to cigarettes and tried repeatedly to quit. RJR, however, argued that the decedent enjoyed smoking and did little or nothing to attempt to quit.

Trial began before Judge Jeffrey Streitfeld on Aug. 18 and continued through Aug. 25.  The jury deliberated less than a full day before finding that addiction to smoking was not the legal cause of Lenny Budnick's disease and death and that RJR was not liable.

The verdict is the first to go in favor of the defense in an Engle progeny case since May 19, when the jury found in favor of Philip Morris USA Inc. in Gil de Rubio v. Philip Morris USA, Inc. (No. 16-2007-CA-012167, Fla. Cir., 4th Judicial Cir., Duval Co.) and the fourth since state court trials began in the cases.  Plaintiffs have been victorious more than 20 trials since they began in February 2009, and two juries have deadlocked.

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For more information, call editor Gerald C. Matics at 610-205-1131, or e-mail him at gerald.matics@lexisnexis.com