Ex-Smoker Awarded $3M In Florida Tobacco Trial Against RJ Reynolds

Posted by David Siegel on May 25, 2021 12:32:46 PM

Kaiser closings

CVN screenshot of plaintiff's attorney Allan Kaiser delivering his closing argument

Quincy, FL - A man suffering from chronic lung disease after decades of smoking was awarded roughly $3 million on Monday in Florida state court at one of the first recent in-person jury trials involving R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

The Gadsen County jury returned their verdict shortly after hearing closing arguments, having just heard opening arguments on May 18 in a trial that moved quickly compared to other Florida tobacco trials, which can sometimes take weeks to complete.

The jury awarded plaintiff Roosevelt Gordon, who suffers from emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, $447,000 in past a future medical expenses and $2,522,880 for past and future pain and suffering.

Gordon blames his illness on the Winston brand cigarettes be began smoking as a teenager, while RJR argued Gordon chose to smoke despite knowing the risks to his health.

Courtroom View Network filmed the proceedings gavel-to-gavel, which are available along with numerous other Florida tobacco trials as part of CVN’s online trial video library.

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During his closing argument, Gordon’s attorney Allan Kaiser of Tein Malone Trial Lawyers offered jurors a range of potential damages to award, based on various hourly rates for Gordon’s suffering. Kaiser described Gordon’s frequent trips to the hospital and deteriorating quality of life, along with the fact that his condition is likely to worsen as time progresses.

Kaiser argued Gordon never saw the messages RJR put out about the health risks associated with smoking, and that consumer expectations in decades past were very different than today.

Kaiser told CVN after the trial that he and his team are extremely pleased with the verdict. 

"The fact that the jury found RJ Reynolds 100% at fault is testament to the fact that our client’s testimony was credible, believable and corroborated," Kaiser said. 

He explained that Gordon's case went faster than most because it wasn't a so-called "Engle progeny" case, meaning it didn't stem from the decertification of a historic class action against the tobacco companies, which resulted in thousands of individual cases slowly making their way through Florida's court system - the vast majority of which are included in CVN's trial video library.

"This was a non-Engle case with only two claims - defective product and negligence and no punitive damages," Kaiser said. "That, plus the fact that jury selection was completed in little over a day, resulted in a shorter trial than most Engle cases." 

RJR’s attorney, John Walker of Jones Day, quoted heavily from Gordon’s testimony during his closing, much as he did in his opening statement. Walker showed jurors repeated quotes from Gordon that he said proved Gordon smoked because he chose to and never made a serious effort to quit.

Walker did not respond to a request for comment. 

The resumption of tobacco trials in Florida is a clear sign of return to normalcy for the state’s court system, which like courts throughout the country suffers a serious backlog of civil trials delayed by the pandemic.

Another in-person trial began Monday in Palm Beach County, and that case is also being webcast by CVN.

These two trials come on the heels of an April trial in Miami, where a jury cleared Philip Morris of any liability for a longtime smoker’s stroke.

That case followed a February trial in Oregon state court, where a jury returned a defense verdict for RJR over responsibility for a smoker’s fatal lung cancer.

The Gadsen County case is captioned Roosevelt Gordon v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, case number 2019CA001074 in the 2nd Judicial Circuit Court of Florida.

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Topics: Products Liability, tobacco, Florida