The limited tort burden is enormous. The extra task of proving “serious impairment” makes the already challenging task of a trial that much harder. But, as onerous as limited tort trials are for us lawyers, our clients really bear the greatest burden. We demand a lot of our clients in the Courtroom. We ask them to take the stand and tell their stories, describe their loss of life’s pleasures and explain their physical limitations, leaving it up to them to pierce the limited tort threshold. Once we enter the Courtroom and the jury takes the box, it’s the plaintiff’s show. Do not take for granted how difficult a job this is and the pressure they feel. All we can do is ease the burden.
ESTABLISH CREDIBILITY WITH THE JURY
It’s often said that “a trial is a race to credibility.” The jury is looking for someone to believe. That someone must be your client. Fortunately, the plaintiff’s lawyer has a head start. You must establish credibility with the jury in your case-in-chief before defense counsel has a chance to discredit your client. The quicker you demonstrate veracity and sincerity, the better chance you have to win the race.
Every case has its problems. But hiding those problems only compounds the burden for your client. Instead of leaving your client vulnerable to destructive cross-examination, front the bad stuff in your case. Tell the jury about your client’s prior or subsequent accidents and injuries. Be honest about her crimen falsi. Explain gaps in medical treatment. Don’t let them hear about it first from defense counsel. If you confide in the jury from the very beginning, it will be much less burdensome for your client to admit, and recover from, tough cross-examination.
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CHALLENGE THE DEFENDANT’S CREDIBILITY
As in any race, the race to credibility must have a loser. It is just as important to challenge the defendant’s veracity as it is to establish your client’s. Before anything, call the defendant tortfeasor as on cross and expose her to the jury. Just like the defense lawyer will do with your client – poke holes in her story. Find any and every way to contest the defendant’s truthfulness, consistency and sincerity. Don’t be afraid to beat the insurance companies at their own game. Once the jury finds your client to be the more believable party, you’ve won the race.
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BUILD A FOUNDATION WITH YOUR MEDICAL EXPERT
First impressions are everlasting. If the plaintiff makes a good first impression to the jury, she will likely get a good award. A bad first impression, however, can be a certain defense verdict. And bad first impressions are easy in limited tort cases. Your client’s testimony will mostly consist of discussing pain, physical limitations, and how her life has been negatively affected by the accident. This can all too often sound like whining and complaining. This will be all the jury remembers in the deliberation room.
The best way to ease the burden on your client is to first give the jury your medical expert. The plaintiff is the most important witness in your case. So, she can’t be the first. Instead, lead with the doctor or a liability or damages witness. Your medical expert can set the stage for the jury, explaining the medicine underlying your client’s injury that a jury cannot dismiss. With the expert medical foundation beneath her, your client will make a stronger first impression without coming off as a whiner or complainer.
FORTIFY YOUR DAMAGES WITH “DAMAGES WITNESSES”
The simplest way to ease your limited tort client’s burden is to provide her with the support of friends and family. Make sure that they are in the Courtroom at trial and that they are willing to testify as “damages” witnesses. Damages are not just about the impact on your client’s life, but the impact on her friends’ and family’s lives as well. The plaintiff is not the only one affected by her injuries, so she shouldn’t bear the burden of going at it alone in front of the jury.
Never underestimate the value of damages witnesses. The more testimony you have corroborating your client’s story, the more credible she is to the jury and the more impactful her testimony. Most importantly, they can help alleviate the heavy burden your limited tort client feels in the Courtroom.
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