Cases & Deals

R.J. Reynolds secures the industry's first defense verdict in Gelep ''Engle progeny'' lawsuit

Client(s) R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company

On March 24, 2009, after two and a half weeks of trial, a state court jury in St. Petersburg, Florida returned a verdict in favor of Jones Day client R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in Reynolds' first trial of an "Engle progeny" lawsuit (Gelep v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Case No. 98-006584-CI-13 (Fla. 6th Cir. Ct.)). The jury deliberated for just ninety minutes before reaching its verdict, which fully vindicated R.J. Reynolds.

The plaintiff, acting as personal representative for her deceased husband (who had smoked cigarettes manufactured by R.J. Reynolds) asserted claims for strict liability, negligence, fraudulent concealment, conspiracy, and breach of express and implied warranty. She argued that her husband was a member of the class decertified by the Florida Supreme Court in Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc., 945 So. 2d 1246 (Fla. 2006), and that she was therefore entitled to the benefit of certain generalized findings made by a jury in the course of the Engle class action trial in 1999. As in other Engle progeny lawsuits, the threshold issue was whether the smoker (in this case the plaintiff's husband) qualified as a member of the Engle class. This required the jury to decide whether the plaintiff's husband developed and ultimately died from lung cancer because of an addiction to cigarettes containing nicotine. Gelep was the third Engle progeny case to go to trial in Florida, but the first with R.J. Reynolds as a defendant, and was the first to end in a complete defense verdict.

Gelep v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Case No. 98-006584-CI-13 (Fla. 6th Cir. Ct.)