Florida Jury Hands Smoker’s Widow $29.1 Million in Latest Post-Engle Trial

Florida Jury Hands Smoker’s Widow $29.1 Million in Latest Post-Engle Trial

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - (Mealey's) A smoker's widow was awarded $29.1 million Thursday, May 21, by a Florida jury in the most recent plaintiff's verdict among Engle progeny trials (Matthew Buonomo, et al. v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., et al., No. CACE08019612, Fla. Cir., 17th Judicial Cir., Broward Co.).

Matthew Buonomo began smoking at age 13 and allegedly developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as a result.  He and his wife, Connie Buonomo, sued R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. (RJR), Philip Morris USA Inc., Liggett Group LLC, Lorillard Tobacco Co. and Vector Group Ltd. in the 17th Judicial Circuit Court for Broward County in May 2008 as former members 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.

All defendants except RJR, whose Camel cigarettes were Matthew Buonomo's preferred brand, were dismissed from the case.  RJR argued that Buonomo died of congestive heart failure, a condition not caused by smoking, rather than COPD.  It also contended that Buonomo chose to smoke and could have quit had he wanted to.

Buonomo died in 2008 at age 80, and his widow pressed on with the action.

Trial began May 5 before Judge Jeffrey E. Streitfeld, and the first of two phases concluded May 14 with the six-member jury finding that the decedent was addicted to RJR's cigarettes and that the addiction was a legal cause of his COPD.  The jury found that RJR was 77.5 percent responsible for the decedent's disease and death.  The decedent himself was 22.5 percent responsible, the jury determined.

Phase II saw the jury deliberate for about five hours before awarding $29.1 million to Buonomo.  The verdict comprises $4.1 million in compensatory and $25 million in punitive damages.  However, because the jurors apportioned liability between the decedent and RJR, the verdict will be reduced accordingly.

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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.