R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. was hit with a $2.97 million verdict Monday after a seven-day Florida state jury trial on claims that its cigarettes caused a 79-year-old former smoker’s chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
The Gadsden County, Florida, jury found that Roosevelt Gordon’s COPD, which he developed after smoking R.J. Reynolds cigarettes for more than 60 years, was the result of negligence and defective product design on the part of the tobacco giant. R.J. Reynolds is fully responsible for Gordon’s COPD, the jury said, including $2.52 million in damages for his pain and suffering and $447,000 in medical expenses.
Gordon filed suit in October 2019 alleging that he was diagnosed with COPD in early 2018 after smoking roughly a pack of R.J. Reynolds’ cigarettes a day since 1954. He alleged that he tried multiple times over the years to quit, but was unsuccessful.
For much of that time, the tobacco company engaged in a practice known as “freebasing,” where it added ammonia and other chemicals to its cigarettes to make their nicotine more potent and addictive. From the late 1960s through 2015, R.J. Reynolds manipulated its Pall Mall and Winston cigarettes — Gordon’s two brands of choice — with these freebasing techniques. As a result, the products were designed specifically to make it more difficult for users to quit. In addition, the tobacco company knew for years that its products could cause diseases like COPD, but purposely kept the information from the public to protect its own interests.
Gordon’s trial is the latest in a near-constant stream of individual litigation from smokers and their estates that R.J. Reynolds has faced in Florida since 2006, when the state’s high court decertified the landmark Engle class in 2006 and overturned a $145 billion verdict against tobacco companies.