CVN screenshot of defense attorney John Walker delivering his opening statement
Quincy, FL - A Florida state court jury heard opening statements Tuesday at an in-person trial over liability for a smoker’s lung disease, and the proceedings are being webcast gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network.
Plaintiff Roosevelt Gordon’s lawsuit against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company is one of the first tobacco-related cases to proceed to trial since last year’s pandemic shutdown. Florida’s state court system is clogged with thousands of tobacco lawsuits, after the state’s Supreme Court decertified a massive class action against the major tobacco companies, deciding the cases must be considered individually.
Attorneys wore face masks during their opening statements, during which Gordon's attorney Michael Tein of the Tein Malone law firm told jurors that his client developed emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, from decades of smoking Winston cigarettes.
Tein, who did hot ask for a specific amount of damages in his opening, told jurors that Gordon began smoking at the age of 13, and that companies like R.J. Reynolds deliberated tried to get children to smoke at an early age.
“In fact children were their target market,” Tein said, telling jurors that R.J. Reynolds ran advertisements during The Flintstones cartoon program.
Tein argued that during the upcoming two-week trial, jurors would hear evidence that R.J. Reynolds engaged in a concerted effort to withhold information from the public about the dangers smoking.
“R.J. Reynolds knew all along that cigarettes were addictive and deadly,” Tein said. “In fact they designed Winstons to be that way.”
He said consumers in previous decades had less access to information than in the modern Internet era, and that trust by consumers in the past that products they purchased were safe benefited the tobacco companies.
“They took advantage of that,” Tein said, suggesting the supposed decision to withhold information from the public lead to billions of dollars a year in cigarette sales.
Representing RJR, attorney John Walker of Jones Day wasted no time immediately addressing the Flintstones allegation, using the start of his opening to explain that despite being a cartoon the show initially and briefly aired on Friday nights and was intended for adults. Walker explained RJR only advertised during the show in that short period.
Walker told the jury that RJR would not dispute during the trial that cigarettes are addictive and can cause disease. He said the issue would be that Gordon knew that and chose to smoke anyway.
Walker argued that throughout Gordon’s years of smoking, RJR put out clear warnings that nicotine was addictive and that smoking had risks. He said cigarettes were highly-regulated products, but they were legal to purchase for people who wanted them.
Walker heavily referenced Gordon’s previous deposition testimony, which Walker said showed that Gordon smoked because he liked cigarettes despite the risks.
“He wasn’t interested in cutting back, and he wasn’t trying to stop smoking,” Walker said.
Gordon’s case comes on the heels of two recent victories for tobacco companies at other in-person trials.
In April a Miami jury cleared Philip Morris of any liability for a longtime smoker’s stroke.
In February an Oregon state court jury returned a defense verdict for RJR at a trial over responsibility for a smoker’s fatal lung cancer.
The current trial is available both live and on-demand via CVN, along with numerous other tobacco trials.
The case is captioned Gordon v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, case number 2019CA001074 in the 2nd Judicial Circuit Court of Florida.
E-mail David Siegel at email@example.com