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.).
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 ) 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.
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.
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
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