In a recent jury trial in Orange County, California, I was confronted with a significant problem. My client had only about $1,800 in damage to the rear end of her car. My client was, however, seriously injured. She had about $50,000 in medical bills from the accident.
I needed to show the jury that there was sufficient impact to cause injury. I also needed to prove that my client was truly injured and not faking or amplifying her injuries. This all had to be done in the highly conservative county where I live and try cases. The way I did this was through a combination of case theme, storytelling and images.
Jury Selection-The Case Theme
In jury selection I asked the jurors the following question. When people go to the grocery store to buy a carton of eggs, what is the first thing that they do when they choose the carton? The jurors all said that people look inside to see if any of the eggs were broken. I then asked them if they agreed that sometimes you can’t see damage on the outside of something but when you look inside you can find significant damage inside. They all kind of smiled and then agreed that was true.
I then asked the jurors if they could apply that same reasoning to a car accident case where there was little visible damage to the outside of the car. They all smiled again and said yes they could.
In that way I introduced the theme of my client’s case. That theme was that, although there was not much visible damage to my client’s car, there was significant damage to the interior of the car and to my client’s body.
In the opening statement I told the jury that every case was a story and that this case was no different. I projected on a screen a list of all the witnesses who would testify in the trial, including the defense witnesses at the end of the list. I told the opening statement as a story with each witness playing a part in the story through what their testimony was going to be. I told the story as a classic hero meets villain story.
In the classic hero meets villain story, the normal everyday life of the plaintiff hero is turned upside down by some wrongful act by another. In this case, the wrongful act is the defendant causing the collision. From then on the story centers on the obstacles which the plaintiff hero must meet and overcome until the hero wins out over the villain in the end.
Images of Damage to the Interior of the Car
In our case the hero plaintiff has to overcome the obstacle of the defense theory and witnesses saying that no one could be injured in an accident where there was little visible damage to the vehicle. To overcome that obstacle, I showed the jury images of the damaged interior bumper system and interior frame rails of my client’s car. I also showed photos of damage to the trunk and interior bumper system of my client’s car.
Our accident reconstructionist was also a qualified biomechanical engineer. He also projected some slides showing the basic anatomy of the spine and neck to teach the jurors where my client’s injury was located. This was to prepare the jury for the medical expert testimony which was to come later in the evidence story.
The accident reconstruction expert then showed videos of crash test dummies undergoing the same speed change as what my client experienced. This was a speed change of 5 to 8 miles per hour. He then testified that, since the majority of people undergoing such a speed change are injured in such an impact, it was highly probable that my client was injured.
MRI Image Shows Damage to Neck
I took a screen shot of one of my client’s neck MRI images from her MRI disk and made it into a digital file. Our neurosurgeon projected that image on a screen. The neurosurgeon taught the jurors the basic anatomy which can be seen in an MRI of the neck.
He then showed the jurors the 3.5 millimeter disc protrusion which was pressing on the sac of tissue which holds my client’s spinal cord. The neurosurgeon then testified that he believed that disc had been injured in the collision and was the source of my client’s neck pain and pain radiating down her arm.
Pain Management Injection Images Show Truly Injured
The pain management expert who testified for my client showed an image of my client being in injected in her trapezius muscles with pain medications. He also showed images of my client undergoing a nerve block in her neck, which turned out to be positive for nerve injury. The jury thus could see the procedure which proved that my client was truly injured and not faking.
The verdict was not as much as I thought my client deserved but it was a very substantial verdict for our very conservative county. Prior to trial I had asked my client to be prepared, as I was, for the possibility of a defense verdict. Instead, the jury gave my client a verdict of $170,000.00.
I believe that the combination of theme, storytelling and images at trial is an important way to truthfully help the jury understand a client’s case. It’s a lot of work to think out the theme, write the story and gather the images but when the evidence starts unfolding smoothly at trial it is all worth it. This is especially true when you can obtain a good result for your client, as I was able to do in this case.
More to the Story
More details of the trial can be seen at my website ARTICLE about this topic.