Opening statements are very important because they create the general jury impression of the case. Once formed, impressions are very difficult to change. Therefore, it is important to make a powerful impression in the opening statement. Here is an example of the damages from the opening statement I made in a jury case using PowerPoint and a short video.
Plaintiff was injured when replacing a billboard sign and the metal pole he was using contacted the overhead power line at the end of the billboard platform he was working on. Plaintiff’s claim was that defendants had replaced 40′ electrical wire poles with 50′ high poles and added more high voltage lines carrying 14,400 volts close to the catwalk where workers had to be to replace billboard signs. Kuntz suit was based on the fact the electrical company had not notified his employer of this change so he was unaware of the increased danger. Kuntz claimed that the poles should have been relocated further away from the billboard. The electric shock knocked him off the catwalk to the ground over 20 feet below. The electrical injuries and fall from the billboard resulted in amputation of both arms at elbow level plus back and leg injuries which required wheelchair for mobility.
The result was a $20,031,504 Million dollar jury verdict for an injured man, his wife and his five children. The breakdown was as follows: Jeff Kuntz $18,306,504 Million. Jennifer Kuntz $1 Million and the children $125,000 each or $625,000. The verdict for his wife and children was based upon their consortium claims.
The accident happened in 1998.The case was tried in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern Washington District.
It is important to note that what follows is only the damage presentation of the opening statement. Additional slides and discussion dealt with liability and specifically with the issue of contributory negligence.
The defendants claimed contributory negligence. I decided to concede some degree of contributory negligence instead of denying evidence of some degree of fault. However, I suggested it was minimal and not more than 10% at most. Jeff Kuntz was found 12% at fault.
This is an example of one kind of opening statement. In today’s world of short and simple communications, there may be too many PowerPoint slides. However, it is essential that the opening be as strong and powerful as possible to create a general jury impression that favors your case.