We open each week by featuring an outstanding opening statement from our on-demand library.
James Gustafson, representing Dianne Webb, gives the opening statement in the retrial on damages of Webb v. R.J. Reynolds. A Florida appellate court overturned an $80 million verdict in favor of Dianne Webb in her 2010 Engle progeny wrongful death trial. Click here if you cannot view the clip above.
The Trial: Dianne Webb v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.
The Attorney: James Gustafson, for the plaintiff.
Retrials on damages alone allow a plaintiff's attorney to begin at a significant advantage. Liability is already a given, allowing the opening statement to focus the bulk of the statement on the often emotionally charged circumstances that led to the damages in the first place. In Webb v. R.J. Reynolds, James Gustafson delivers a strong opening, working from his position of relative strength on this retrial confined to damages.
The retrial of Webb v. R.J. Reynolds, which is currently in progress, comes four years after a jury found in favor of Dianne Webb in her Engle progeny tobacco lawsuit. The jury in that 2010 proceeding awarded her $80 million, including $8 million in compensatory damages and $72 million in punitives, for the smoking-related death of her father. While a Florida appeals court affirmed the finding of liability, it set aside the damage award, concluding that the verdict was based on hardships Dianne and her father, James Kayce Horner, suffered that were unrelated to his fatal lung cancer.
In his opening statement of the retrial, Gustafson ensures that jury clearly understands that Reynolds's guilt in the case has already been decided. Throughout his statement, he highlights the defendant's culpability as a closed issue, while also delivering a powerful narrative of Horner's bond with his daughter and the pair's struggles through his final days with terminal cancer. From the beginning of his opening ("R.J. Reynolds was negligent and negligence caused Mr. Horner's wrongful death,") to its end ("He was taken before his time as a result of conduct by R.J. Reynolds that was intentional."), Gustafson never lets the jury forget the defendant's liability, using it to bookend and reinforce the circumstances at the heart of his client's claim for damages. It's an opening statement that paved the way for a $900,000 compensatory award for Webb, with punitives still to be decided.