defense witness

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.

 

78 – Randy Sorrels – Masked Justice: Part 4

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with former President of the State Bar of Texas, Randy Sorrels for another installation of our Masked Justice series. Randy recently tried an interesting case where he represented the sons of two former professional baseball stars and received a $3.25 million verdict. They’ll cover that recent victory, how this trial was different from a pre-COVID trial, what it’s like representing famous clients in high profile cases, Randy’s service to his clients, and more.

They start off the episode by digging into Randy’s background. As a defense lawyer at a large firm early in his career, he was able to gain experience trying cases quickly after law school. That experience has proved invaluable since transitioning to exclusively plaintiff’s work, and he notes some interesting differences between how a plaintiff’s lawyer and a defense lawyer try a case. He then sums this up by stating, “Trials always happen because one side mis-evaluates the case. I’ve been on both sides of that.”

Michael then transitions the conversation to Randy’s recent trial verdict, and Randy starts by sharing the facts of the case. His clients were two minor league baseball players, who just happened to be the sons of former professional baseball players (and close friends) Roger Clemens and Mike Capel. The two young men were at a high-end bar/night club on New Year’s Eve of 2018 when they were brutally attacked by a bouncer and, Randy claims, the owner of the venue. After a “scuffle” which neither of the men were involved in broke out, they were both violently thrown out of the bar, causing Kacy Clemens injury to his throwing elbow and Conner Capel a fracture to the skull. But more importantly, they both suffered tarnished reputations for “being in a bar fight,” something the MLB does not take lightly.

Randy was hired on the case almost immediately, leading Michael to ask what he did to preserve evidence. He shares how the police attempted to preserve the security footage from the incident, but after a suspicious interaction with the owner, they were informed the cameras only live stream and do not record. Luckily, video of the incident had been captured on cell phones from patrons. This footage was the evidence needed to prove neither of the men were involved in the fight.

Michael then digs deeper into the mechanics of Randy’s COVID-era trial, which was held in person in Harris County, Texas. Randy explains how they selected the jury in a large convention center and how the judge did an excellent job with maintaining a safe environment for everybody. The courthouse setup placed the jurors where the audience usually sits and placed the witnesses in the jury box. If you stood up, you had to wear a mask- something Randy avoided doing for the first couple days of trial, but once he stood up with the mask on, he noticed jurors were paying better attention than when he was seated and mask-less.

Randy then discusses why he does not believe there was a negative effect on the jurors with Covid safety protocols, and though he was initially concerned the jury pool would lean conservative, it ended up being a very diverse and representative jury. And while this trial was far from “normal,” Randy is very satisfied with the $3.25 million verdict he received for his clients and was highly impressed with Harris County’s system for in-person trials during the pandemic.

Aside from the unusual circumstances surrounding the trial brought on by the pandemic, Michael is curious as to how you convince a jury to award a professional athlete’s son a 7-figure verdict. Randy explains how it was a challenge, especially because both clients were working within 10 days of the incident, but in the end it worked out. In fact, Roger Clemens’ testimony was especially powerful to the case. Randy shares an amazing story of what happened when the defense attorney tried to grill Roger about allegations of steroid use, but ended up saying, “I’m a huge fan, and you’re a hell of a baseball player.”

This wasn’t Randy’s first rodeo representing a famous client. Early in his career, he also represented Ozzy Osbourne after he was rear-ended in a taxi in Houston (something that left Michael star struck)! While his whiplash injury was seemingly minor, Randy explains how it turned into a fairly large case because Ozzy had to cancel 3 shows for the most rockstar reason you’ve EVER heard. This story is a must-listen for metal fans and legal enthusiasts alike!

Randy also explains how important service is to him through his time as the State Bar of Texas President, a mostly unpaid position which he served in for a year. He believes interacting with lawyers on both sides has made him an even better trial lawyer today, and helped give him the state-wide notoriety to start his own firm, Sorrels Law. Michael also points out how Randy will share when he gets the policy limits on a case with a $30,000 policy limit. But Randy explains why those cases are still important and deserve representation, something he’s happy to give them.

The pair end the episode with another unbelievable story from Randy’s most recent trial, involving a lovable defense witness with a hidden secret. This really is one you need to hear to believe!

This podcast episode also covers why Randy was hired so quickly on the Clemens case, a creative place to search for footage of a crash, the safety precautions taken by the court, whether or not you should conduct jury research before a trial, why big verdicts are good for all plaintiff’s lawyers (even if it’s not your own), and so much more.

If you’d like to speak with Randy Sorrels you can email him at randy@sorrelslaw.com or call his cell phone at (713) 582-8005.

 

Guest Bio:

Randy Sorrels is the Immediate Past President of the State Bar of Texas, which consists of almost 105,000 lawyers. Texas lawyers voted him to this position by the widest margin of victory in State Bar election history. As a Texas lawyer, Randy has also been named one of the top 100 lawyers in Texas for the last 14 years by Texas Super Lawyers magazine.

Randy holds five board certifications from the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He has extensive experience handling personal injury cases, medical malpractice cases, and business disputes – including “bet the company” cases.

Most recently, Randy has been named the Best Lawyers® Medical Malpractice Law – Plaintiffs “Lawyer of the Year”, in Houston, and this is his third time for him to receive this honor. He has also been awarded some of the highest legal honors in Texas. He has been awarded the State Bar of Texas’ President’s Award (recognizing the one Texas Lawyer who provided the most outstanding contributions through distinguished service to the lawyers of Texas), the Judge Sam Williams Award (recognizing the Texas lawyer who provides the greatest contribution to both local bars and the State Bar of Texas), and the Houston Bar Association President’s Award (recognizing significant contributions to an HBA program). Early in his career, Randy was honored with the Woodrow B. Seals Outstanding Young Lawyer of Houston Award (recognizing the one young Houston lawyer who exemplified significant professional traits both inside and outside the practice of law).

 

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