It is the kind of big trial that consumes a lawyer's energy and, as Gustafson talks, he sounds like he is still in the courtroom, making that case to jury. "It is hard to come down off that," says Gustafson. "You don't sleep very well and you wake up at five in the morning ready to go fight."
And maybe it's because Gustafson's own father also died of lung cancer that he speaks so clearly and eloquently about the damage done by big tobacco. "These smokers were part of our greatest generation," says Gustafson. "They made it through the Depression, they fought and won World II, they created a giant of an industrial nation and it was on their backs that this country was built."
"These are people who started smoking decades before there were warning labels on cigarettes," says Gustafson. "James Horner, Diane Webb's dad, started smoking as a teenager in 1934 and smoked for 32 years before there was ever a warning label put on these packages."
"James Horner watched his wife die of lung cancer, his son-in-law had a heart attack because of cigarettes and then finally he died," says Gustafson.
And although smoking killed Gustafson's father, he says he never really knew just how deplorable big tobacco's conduct has been until he started working on this trial. "The depth of their deceit is just unfathomable—it is just bottomless," says Gustafson.
"My dad smoked unfiltered Lucky Strikes and then switched to filtered cigarettes," says Gustafson. "But I now know that filters are a fraud. If anything they make cigarettes more dangerous because they make the smoker puff harder."
"The R.J. Reynolds internal documents are spectacular in their deceit," says Gustafson. "Sometimes juries are skeptical about wrongful death suits for smokers, they wonder why you're doing this," says Gustafson. "But in these cases, the conduct of big tobaccos is so bad you can literally see the jury turning against the company."
"We are not proving these cases with our own documents, we're proving these cases with their own documents," adds Gustafson.
James Gustafson is a shareholder with Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley. He served with the US Army's 82nd Airborne Division. He earned his JD at Florida State University and attended Oxford University. His firm is currently handling a number of cases against big tobacco on behalf of smokers and their families.