A problem of a wealthy plaintiff and elderly defendant

A great trial lawyer in California has a case he is trying involving a death action. His deceased was a very wealthy man with a classic car collection and many other expensive things. He had earned his money t he old fashioned way, by hard work. While riding his bike, a 87 year old driver hit him and killed him. The issue was whether the plaintiff’s lawyer should attempt to exclude the evidence of wealth or not. Several of his friends, including me, gave him advice. While the issue is unique, you might be interested in the advice he was given.

This is what I told him:

It seems to me you only have two choices: try to exclude evidence of wealth or embrace it as a truth in the case. My problem in past years when I’ve attempted to exclude the wealth of my client in a damage case is the defense gets it in somehow anyway. In one case, defense counsel waited until her final argument and then just said contrary to the motion in limine "after all, he’s worth 35 million dollars." So, I believe you might as well rush to be the first one to tell the jury about his wealth and life style.

There are the standard arguments you know about: the law is blind to whether it involves the poor or the wealthy; no bias is allowed re wealth nor sympathy re poverty – A short version of my argument about this goes like this: If Bill Gates, the wealthiest man in the world, suffered a needless brain injury because someone wasn’t doing their job right, we would not say: he doesn’t need anything, he’s wealthy because that would set a standard allowing rules to be broken when it involves the wealthy but not if it involves middle class or poor people. The rules must be followed whether we agree with them or not and no matter who is involved, rich or poor.

You know all these arguments, but my gut would be to open up the subject and describe his life style, his classic racing car collection and racing experience, his climb to wealth and in short his life story rather then down play or pretend otherwise. After all we had a long running TV program with Robin Leach about the rich and the famous so people are interested.

Another trial lawyer friend told him she thought he should emphasize the Reptilian "what’s in it for me" approach. Show how the man used his money to give back to the community, scholarships, etc. Show what a loss this was to the rest of the community.

The trial is in progress so I don’t know what approach was used or what the end result was. Stay posted.

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One Response to A problem of a wealthy plaintiff and elderly defendant

  1. Jordan Hutchinson says:

    How did the trial turn out?
    And what tactics were most successful in making the wealthy plaintiff more sympathetic to the jury?

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