PHRASES THAT CONVEY MEANING

Here are some thoughts about subjects relating to juries. I begin with some examples of themes or framing of issues from actual opening statements from my cases. The goal here is to use language which will convey meaning.  Perhaps something here will stimulate your thinking about a case you have.

School liability

In this case a school physical education teacher allowed children to leave the gym and go on a run off of school property and return without supervision. A child was struck by a car and seriously injured.

  • This case is all about a school that gambled with the safety of their students and lost

Guard rail injury

In this case the city had installed a guard rail along a street but did not bury the end. Instead it was left pointing at the road at the same level as the guard rail. The vehicle deviated from the road, hit the end of the guard rail. It went through the vehicle, striking the driver and causing serious injuries.

  • This is a case about a city that left a spear pointing towards the road when it should have been guarding against injuries to drivers

These are some phrases and proverbs that have been used in cases to emphasize a particular issue of liability.

  • What does the phrase: “It’s better to be safe than sorry” mean to you?
  • What does the phrase “If the job is worth doing, it is worth doing right” mean to you?
  • What does the phrase “Penny wise and pound foolish” mean to you?
  • What does the phrase “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link” mean to you?
  • Do you agree with the idea that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?”

These are some examples of phrases framed in a way to emphasize that actions merely a mistake but something more serious.

  • The company did this, which he knew was dangerous and knew it would hurt people, but did it anyway.
  • The doctor did this, which he knew was dangerous, but he wanted to practice the surgery because he was still learning
  • the company knew that if the cut cost by cutting back on safety that workers were going to get hurt, but it did it anyway.

Note that all of these phrases are a story of betrayal. When we say “they knew it was dangerous and would hurt people, but they did it anyway, we are telling a story of betrayal. It is betrayal and not mere negligence that motivates jurors to find in favor of the plaintiff.

Here are some quotes from an opening statement in a medical malpractice case involving injuries to a child. They are deliberately framed in strong language to emphasize that this was not an understandable mistake, but a substantial breach of good care for the wrong reasons.

  • This case is about two heart surgeons at the Children’s Hospital here in Seattle that failed in a horrendous way to follow accepted medical care that left a four your old little girl with severe brain damage. And it’s about how neither of the two doctors, nor the hospital they work for, want to accept the financial consequences for their screw up. Instead, they want to dump it onto the poor child’s parents.
  • Now let’s talk a little bit about how the two doctors screwed things up and the life they destroyed in the process.
  • Because of the brain damage Sally will essentially spend the rest of her life in a severely retarded state requiring 24 hours a day care. Not only did the doctors violation of good medical care destroy her life, it destroyed the lives of the entire family

Lastly, we know that the road to bad verdicts is paved with attorneys who relied upon logic to convince the jury. Without a story with an appeal to emotion, the attempt is counterproductive. We can evaluate the fault by having the jurors consider these three questions:

  1. How likely was it that the act or omission would hurt somebody?
  2. How much harm could it have caused?
  3. How much harm could it cause in other similar situations?

To summarize all of this, we know that to appeal to the jury we need to look for the moral imperative: the story of a wrong that needs to be set right. In that process we need to never be satisfied with “what” and to look for the “why” motive is the key to understanding people’s conduct and the motivator for plaintiffs verdict when it involves betrayal. Perhaps something here will be useful in that regard.

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