brain injury

107 – Stefano Portigliatti – The Power of the Individual: Insights into Juror Psychology, Communication & Understanding

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with Stefano Portigliatti, a trial lawyer out of Jacksonville, Florida, who recently secured a $14.6 million verdict on a tough trucking case. Michael and Stefano discuss Stefano’s background, how he connects with jurors individually, and all the details of his recent verdict.

To begin the episode, Michael asks Stefano about his background and how he got to where he is today. Stefano shares how his family is Italian, and how he grew up in Brazil. He had dropped out of college, but after some life experiences “woke him up to his priorities,” he decided to go stay with his brother in Tampa, Florida, and finish school. The pair finished college, then decided to attend law school together, where Stefano was bit by the “personal injury bug” and found his calling.

His family runs multiple businesses out of Orlando, including a Human Behavioral Research Group. It was in this lab where Stefano studied human behavior, motivation, personality, and social studies through neurosciences. Before law school, he applied this to executive coaching for businesses, but quickly realized the implications on jury communication and connection.

Stefano then elaborates on his personality assessment tool, which goes to the root of what we care about and how we communicate. Some jurors care about the rules being broken, others empathize with the social consequences, and others want to plainly see the numbers.

After Michael asks him what he does to motivate different people, Stefano explains the two-axis that separate people into four different quadrants. The first axis is their level of assertiveness, defined as those who need to influence the environment in accordance with what they want, versus those who look to the environment for cues. The other axis is the individual’s responsiveness, broken into task/objective-oriented versus people-oriented. When you place both continuums together, you get four quadrants from which 70% of human behavior can be attributed.

Michael digs further into how Stefano assesses these tendencies in jury selection. He shares how he doesn’t ask jurors explicitly but instead looks for cues based on their answers to questions, such as their occupation and eagerness to participate in the process. Once he has this information, he tailors his presentation of the case to each individual juror and what they value.

“Communication is not what you say. It’s what people understand.” – Stefano Portigliatti

This technique requires the lawyer to “talk to the juror, NOT the jury.” Stefano argues that this is so important because, at the end of the day, they are all individuals who are forming their own opinions until they step into the deliberation room. He then shares some enlightening examples from his recent trucking case verdict, including questioning a defense witness on his engineering qualifications when he had an engineering student on the jury, the client discussing his relationship with God after the incident when most of the jury were devout Christians, and even questioning the defense’s tow truck driver before relying on a truck driver on the jury to use “common sense” in deliberations.

Michael then asks Stefano to give some background on what happened in this case. Stefano explains how his client was an 18-wheeler driver who experienced air loss in his chassis while on the road during a bout of rain. He was unable to get off the roadway and eventually came to a hill, where he got stuck. He put out triangles on the road, but only put them out to about 160 feet instead of the required 200 feet. He gets back in his cab to avoid the rain when another semi comes over the hill, swerves, and jackknifes into the client’s semi. A witness later testified that the defendant driver was looking down the entire time.

Stefano’s client was flung from the sleeper cab into the front of the cab, where he hit his head and was left with a bad neck injury. They later discovered he also suffered a brain injury in the crash.

Listening to this story, Michael notices some clear issues Stefano had to face, including blocking the lane of traffic on the roadway and that he should have inspected the vehicle before departing. But shockingly, the jury found Stefano’s client 0% liable for the wreck. Of course, Michael asks how Stefano was able to do this. In short, the answer is putting in a LOT of work.

Stefano began to work up this case by consulting with experts, including one on CMV safety, to figure out what happens when a chassis loses air. Then, he held a total of five focus groups just on liability. At each focus group, he was asked questions that he didn’t have answers to. By the end, he learned so much from each of these groups that he went from 70% liability on his client in the first focus group to just 20% liability in the last focus group. The key was accepting and owning the things his client didn’t do right while focusing on the inattention of the defendant driver.

Another interesting aspect of this case was that the client’s brain injury wasn’t diagnosed for over a year after the crash. Luckily for Stefano, while the diagnosis took a while, his client’s symptoms were well documented from the time of the crash. He experienced intense dizziness, vertigo, depression, nightmares, and issues with directions. When they did a specialized MRI on him, they found that he did in fact have a brain injury, which explained all these symptoms.

Stefano then explains how the human story added credibility to the medical story. He had lots of “before and after” witnesses, including family, friends, and co-workers. Each of these witnesses had a distinct reason for being there, which Stefano made sure to emphasize since the order of the trial was much different than he had anticipated.

Stefano’s client received $4.6 million for economic damages and a massive $10 million for human loss, so Michael’s next question is about how he was able to get so much for human loss. Stefano shares his highly effective “damages pie chart,” which he finds particularly useful in cases with high medical expenses in the past and future. He divided the pie into 6 slices, with only one of those being past and future medical bills. He then fills the rest of the slices with examples from the case, such as physical impairment and loss of quality of life. This chart resonated so well with the jury that they asked for it during deliberations.

To wrap up the episode, Stefano highlights two points that he thinks are the most significant of this trial; flexibility and credibility. Trials will never to exactly how you planned them, so being able to adapt and roll with the punches is key. He also put a lot of effort into credibility, opting to go for an understated opening statement to ensure he didn’t overstate by event 1%. This built trust with the jury, resulting in this incredible verdict for Stefano’s client.

This podcast episode also covers getting over the fear of the jury, detailed stories of how Stefano connected with each juror individually, how Stefano adapted to the defense’s delay of the trial, and so much more.

 

Guest Bio:

Stefano D. Portigliatti is a trial attorney specializing in commercial motor vehicle cases at Coker Law, PA in Jacksonville, FL.  He has represented clients in over a hundred trucking cases and helped obtain millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements. Stefano is among the first 20 attorneys in the United States to pass a rigorous exam on trucking laws and an intensive background check to prove that his practice is dedicated to litigating trucking crash cases. He was also one of the youngest attorneys to be included among Super Lawyer’s Rising Stars and the National Trial Lawyers’ Top 40 Under 40.

Stefano often presents on topics related to trial and trucking litigation. He is on the Board of Regents of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys. He is also the founder of truck.law™, which assists other plaintiffs’ attorneys handling trucking cases with forms, resources, and seminars available at www.truck.law.

Stefano was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, to a hard-working Italian family. Before becoming a lawyer, he was engaged in diverse business ventures across multiple continents. Stefano is the Vice President of SOAR Global Institute – a laboratory that researches human behavior and development. Stefano speaks internationally in the areas of emotional intelligence, innovation, and human development. He is a certified master coach and trainer and has developed several courses and systems that apply psychology and behavioral analytics to management and trial strategies.

Stefano is a musician and likes to sail, golf, cook and travel with his wife, Brittany, and their two sons, Luca and Leonardo.

 

67 – Brendan Lupetin – Masked Justice: Part 1

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with trial attorney Brendan Lupetin out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Brendan, a self-proclaimed “trial nerd,” is one of just a handful of attorneys who has tried a case in the era of COVID-19, receiving a $10.8 million dollar jury verdict on his medical negligence case. They’ll discuss Brendan’s background, the details of the case, how he prepared, what it was like trying a case during a pandemic, and his advice for lawyers and courts across the country to start having jury trials again.

The episode begins with an overview of Brendan’s background and how he became the successful trial lawyer he is today. He explains how he began by trying about 10 bad cases where he lost “in brutal fashion,” and finally found his first victory with a $500 rear-end car case verdict. Since then, he’s focused on reading everything and anything he can on trials. Now, he’s tried 40 cases to jury verdict and has found great success in the last 10.

As a self-proclaimed “trial nerd,” Brendan spends most of his free time reading and studying the work of other great trial lawyers and legal scholars, citing Rick Friedman, Keith Mitnik, David Ball, Artemis Malekpour, Jude Basille, and many others. He and Michael discuss the difficulties of implementing all the trial theories and strategies available today, but Brendan explains how his approach is to blend them all together to find what works best for him. A sentiment echoed by Michael and certainly a recurring theme on the show.
Michael then asks Brendan about the details of the medical malpractice case he recently tried. While the difficulties of trying a case during a pandemic are apparent, Brendan insists his job was made easier by the fact that this was truly a great case. Brendan’s client, a 41-year old father and project manager, went to the hospital for an MRI. He had an allergic reaction to the contrasting chemical they injected him with. While the hospital had policies in place to protect patients in the event of an allergic reaction, none of those policies were followed and Brendan’s client was unfortunately left with a severe brain injury.

Michael then notes that Brendan ended up with such a simple theory, which Brendan explains was a long road to get to. They originally had 3 defendants, but after numerous focus groups and hiring John Campbell of Empirical Jury to run a study after Brendan “serendipitously” listened to his podcast episode 3 ½ weeks before the trial, they decided to drop one of the defendants because he complicated the story. Michael agrees that this was a smart move, quoting Rodney Jew by saying, “If you chase two rabbits, you won’t catch either one.”

Brendan also kept in mind Mark Mandell’s case framing theory throughout the trial and describes how he was tempted to dispute the defense’s timeline of events because he found they were about a minute and a half off. But after employing the case framing theory, he and his partner decided to leave that out because it drew away from the main focus of the case – “Policy violations caused delay, and delay is never good in an emergency.”

Michael then asks Brendan what else he’s learned throughout his study of advocacy that he used in the trial, to which Brendan simply replies, “everything.” He describes his journey to crafting the perfect opening statement, employing techniques from David Ball, Nick Rowley, Keith Mitnik, and many others. He also recorded the final product and shared it on his YouTube channel. It’s clear throughout the episode that Brendan is truly a lifelong learner and is constantly honing his craft as a trial lawyer.

After gaining insight into the case and Brendan’s trial techniques, Michael asks the question on everyone’s mind – What was it like trying a case during the pandemic? Brendan first gives credit to Judge Jackie Bernard and the court system for setting up an incredibly safe and effective trial plan, and emphasizes the need for more courts to follow suit and begin holding jury trials again.
The court began by sending out a questionnaire to potential jurors which asked hardship questions, immediately excluding anybody who had health concerns or was extremely uncomfortable attending a trial because of COVID-19. Voir dire was held in a huge courtroom with 45 people in the room, and 45 others in a separate room watching on video. The process was so streamlined and well planned that they were able to select the jury in less than four hours.

Once the trial began, this attention to detail became even more evident. Everybody wore masks for the duration of the trial, there was plexiglass around the judge and witness stand, and the jury was spread out around the room in a way so creative you have to hear it to believe it. By using these precautions, the trial went on without a hitch and with a significantly lower risk of infection than a traditional trial set up.

Brendan and Michael agree that without a significant threat of a trial, their big cases won’t result in a fair settlement. They discuss the immediate need for courts to find a safe solution to continue jury trials and the need for plaintiff lawyers to work together to persuade their courts to do so.

They end the episode on a surprising note. Brendan explains how everybody thinks trying a case during the pandemic is this crazy experience, but he said it really didn’t feel very different from trying a case in a courtroom you haven’t been in before. You always need to adapt to a new judge’s rules, a new courtroom set up, etc. This wasn’t much different than that. And by implementing the safety precautions Brendan described, courts around the country can begin to open and allow the pursuit of justice instead of pushing trials off further and further. As Brendan poetically put it, “Hope is not a plan.”

If you’d like to learn more from Brendan Lupetin, visit his firm’s website and subscribe to his YouTube channel.

This podcast also covers Brendan’s favorite closing strategy, obtaining a representative jury during COVID-19, the “freaky” accurate results of Brendan’s Empirical Jury study with John Campbell, and so much more.

 

Interested in hearing more COVID Era trial stories? Check out our other Masked Justice episodes:

 

Bio:

Brendan is a trial lawyer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  He focuses on medical malpractice, product defect and personal injury law.  He loves helping the people he represents and trying their cases to jury verdict when necessary.

Brendan is a trial nerd and truly enjoys reading trial books, studying trial videos and seminars, watching trials and “talking shop” with fellow trial lawyers.

The son of a doctor and trauma counselor Brendan learned early on the importance of compassion, empathy and to always stand up for what is right, no matter the consequence.

Following a four-year tenure as a scholarship swimmer, Brendan received his B.S. from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000 and his J.D. from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 2005.
During his career, Brendan has tried numerous cases of all types to jury verdict.  Over the course of the past several years, Brendan has obtained numerous multi-million-dollar verdicts for his clients – all of which far exceeded the highest offers of settlement.

What Brendan loves more than anything, however, is spending time with his wife and high school sweetheart Lacey and their three sons Nathan, John and Owen.

 

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