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Big Tobacco’s $25 Million Punitive Damages Award

Posted on May 28, 2010

The widow of a smoker who died after almost 70 years of smoking was awarded $29.1 million by a Fort Lauderdale jury on Thursday, May 20. Based on a San Francisco Chronicle article, Connie Buonomo sued on behalf of her late husband, Matthew, who died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in 2008. He was 80-years-old and had smoked since he was 13, unable to break the addiction.

The unanimous jury verdict includes $25 million in punitive damages and just over $4 million in compensatory damages. The jurors found the R. J. Reynolds was 77.5% responsible for Buonomo’s illness and death and that he shared the remaining responsibility. Ever since the Engle class action lawsuit was decertified in Florida in 2006, individual cases have gone forward to trial and Florida tobacco attorneys continue to keep up to date on the latest news regarding these cases. To date, Big Tobacco has won three cases and lost 16.

The tobacco companies say that the findings of the Engle case — that tobacco companies sold defective products, that they concealed the dangers of smoking, and acted negligently — should not be allowed to stand untested in every case that goes forward. R. J. Reynolds is fighting the findings from the 2000 Engle trial, named for a doctor who headed the class. The company claims that to allow the original findings in each case, deprives them of a fair trial. The judge in this Fort Lauderdale case, Florida Circuit Judge Jeffrey E. Streitfeld, is the same judge who presided over the Naugle case, which ended in a $300 million award to Cindy Naugle, an ex-smoker with emphysema and the biggest post-Engle verdict to date.