focus groups

108 – Jessica Brylo – Trial Dynamics: Tipping the Scales in Your Favor

On this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with Jessica Brylo, owner and lead consultant at Trial Dynamics. They discuss Jessica’s path to success, identifying juror attitudes, jury decision-making, case framing, focus groups, and much more.

Michael begins the episode by asking Jessica about her background and what got her into jury consulting. Jessica shares how she went to law school at Duke, where she got in contact with David Ball. She began attending focus groups and learning from David, and it became clear that jury research and consulting was her calling.

Michael then asks her to share some wisdom she’s learned along the way regarding juror attitudes. Jessica starts by stating most jurors and juries do a good job and arrive at logical conclusions; the interesting part as a researcher is looking at how they got there (Hint: It’s rarely how the lawyer thought they would). This is because jurors make decisions based on their own past experiences, and much of their decision-making process is unconscious.

Jessica continues on this line of thought by explaining how the different facts you hear every day are all brought into your brain and “filtered through your life experiences.” If this new fact fits within those experiences, you will likely accept it. If it does not fit within those experiences or goes against your beliefs, you’ll either change the fact in your mind or throw it out altogether. The key is to build your story around what those pre-existing beliefs are and fit it within that framework. And since every fact you hear is filtered through previously learned facts, Jessica emphasizes that messing up during voir dire and opening statement is extremely hard to come back from.

“When [jurors] hear a fact, they don’t just hear the fact in isolation.” – Jessica Brylo

Michael and Jessica continue to discuss Jessica’s experience and insights into juror decision making, including how to keep a positive atmosphere while finding what jurors you need to strike, what you can do to prepare a case of any value, and how to identify potential leaders on a jury panel.

The conversation then shifts to the practice of Case Framing, something Jessica specializes in. She defines it simply as the way in which you portray a case, then elaborates on the different ways to tell this story in a persuasive way, starting with not focusing on the plaintiff. Instead, Jessica says you should focus on the wrong the defendant did; better yet what the company or industry as a whole did, and the potential ramifications of that wrongdoing.

Additionally, Jessica explains how you need to keep your focus on the facts of YOUR case and not fall prey to the “red herrings” the defense throws at you. While you need to address what happened in the crash, you should remind the jurors that the point is irrelevant to the case as a whole. When the defense tries to take the crash out of context, it’s your job to put it back into context.

“You can’t play a defensive game all the time. You need to focus on your best facts, focus on where you need the jurors to be.” – Jessica Brylo

Michael then asks Jessica a somewhat controversial question- what is the main purpose of jury selection? She acknowledges the different opinions of Nick Rowley and other prominent trial lawyers, but says for her it’s:

  1. Reveal bad jurors.
  2. Form a connection with the jurors.

Jessica then shares her insightful strategies for finding out who the bad jurors are, then how she connects with the jurors.

While Jessica recognizes the differing opinions surrounding jury selection, there are certain mistakes that just should not be made. Common ones she sees are the lawyer talking too much about themselves, asking jurors if they “have a problem” with things or if they “can be fair” about things, and asking the jurors’ opinion about political topics like Trump or the COVID response.

“They’re trying to do the right thing, but it’s just not the right phrasing and words to do it.” – Jessica Brylo

Michael and Jessica wrap up the episode by discussing focus groups. In an ideal world, you could hire a consultant to run all your focus groups but given budget constraints and varying case values that’s just not realistic. When running your own focus group, Jessica recommends doing your best to find a truly representative jury pool, which can be harder than you’d think. She also cautions against some common mistakes she sees in focus groups, including pushing your own stuff too much and not focusing on the negative aspects of your case. They finish up on what to do with the valuable, though negative, information you receive at the focus group.

Jessica wrote and released a free e-book for plaintiff lawyers, detailing the do’s and don’ts of running your own focus group. If you’re interested in this free e-book, email jessica@trialdynamics.net and request a copy. If you’re interested in working with Jessica Brylo, visit her website at www.trialdynamics.net.

This episode also covers the Arizona Jury Project, why word choice is so important, how to use the defense’s behavior throughout the lawsuit against them with the jury, and so much more.

 

Guest Bio:

Jessica Brylo, J.D., M.A. is the owner and lead consultant at Trial Dynamics. She graduated cum laude from Duke Law School in 2007 where she received her J.D. and Masters in Psychology. While there, she was trained by one of the nation’s leading trial consultants, David Ball, Ph.D. She was given the privilege held by only a handful of people in the country of being able to study video of real juries deliberating from the Arizona Project. While at Duke, she spent three years studying juries, visiting courthouses, interviewing jurors, and interning with Dr. Ball. She trained in the art of editing opening statements and closing arguments to address the jurors’ unconscious minds, thus making cases stronger by creating jurors who fight for your client when they are in the deliberation room.

She founded Hoffman Brylo Consulting, now Trial Dynamics, in 2008, a full-service consulting firm specializing in plaintiff’s cases. Since then, she has expanded the firm to serve a wider range of cases nationally. She believes that no two cases are alike and that jurors respond to small nuances that make huge differences in verdicts. Consulting strategy techniques can reveal these subtleties and shed light on how to overcome hidden problems in the case, but only if conducted properly with attention to detail.

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.

 

77 – Gregory Cusimano – Understanding & Utilizing The Jury Bias Model

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with trial lawyer and consultant Gregory Cusimano. As one of the authors of “Winning Case Preparation: Understanding Jury Bias, Gregory has conducted a plethora of research on why plaintiff’s lawyers win and lose cases. He and Michael discuss his 10 part jury bias model in detail and how you can apply it to your own cases. 

They start off the episode with Michael asking Gregory how he first got involved with this research. He explains how it began as an AAJ committee which he co-chaired with attorney David Winters. The committee was instated because there had been a trend of good lawyers losing good cases, and they wanted to understand why it was happening. After conducting around 1,000 focus groups on every case type imaginable, they developed the foundations of the jury bias model. 

Gregory goes on to share how it didn’t take long to identify the five common anti-plaintiff biases, which they called “untried issues.” These are issues which are important to a jury, but not to the plaintiff’s lawyer, so most lawyers would try the case without ever addressing them. The initial 5 untried issues included personal responsibility, suspicion, victimization, “stuff” happens, and “blame the plaintiff.” While some of these may seem obvious, Gregory explains why understanding these issues is critical for your case 

Michael then asks Gregory what plaintiff’s lawyers can do about these issues, which he admits was the much harder answer to find. In time, he was able to come up with the “10 Commandments,” or 10 decision-making events or aspects that tend to work. He emphasizes that these are in no way a fool-proof formula to win every case, but instead are a way to use social science to present your case in the best way possible.  

The first (and incredibly important) step is to develop the trial storyThe story should be discovered through jury research. Then, you frame your trial story to be consistent with the beliefs of the potential jurors in your venue. Gregory then eloquently ties in the concepts of Fundamental Attribution Error and Availability principle to explain how important framing and ordering of the facts is to the success of your case.  

The next step is to elicit confirmation. Once you’ve found through research what the jurors in your venue believe, you need to present the case in a way which is “hand in glove” to what they already believe. When Michael asks Gregory how the lawyer should figure this out, his answer is fitting with the research he’s done: concept focus groups. If the case warrants it, this is the gold standard in Gregory’s opinion. If it’s a smaller case or you don’t have the funds to hire an outside consultant to hold the focus group, Gregory STRONGLY cautions against attempting to do it yourself. Instead, you should ask colleagues, friends, or family to participate in the process. This is because lawyers are already so invested in their own cases it’s nearly impossible to not project your own biases to your mock jury. Lastly, it’s important to remember that a focus group is qualitative, not quantitative research. A group of 10 is not a big enough sample size to conclude why you need a specific type of person on your jury. 

Another “commandment” is to “head the norm.” Gregory explains how this stems from the “norm principal,” and when applied to trial it means if the conduct of the defendant is “according to the norm,” juries are not likely to find liability. He shares an example of a case he had where a man was on the back of a garbage truck that crashed into another vehicle, amputating the man’s leg. He thought the case was perfect, but he kept losing in every focus group and mock trial. Eventually, he realized even though men standing on the back of a garbage truck is incredibly dangerous, every juror had seen people doing it. It was the norm, so they never found liability.  

They move on to discuss another commandment, “plan for hindsight bias.” This is framing your case in a way where a jury would think, “I knew that was going to happen.” For example, a product liability case begins in a corporate boardroom six years ago when they decided not to go with a safer option. As you share the subsequent meetings and decisions made, the jury already knows how the story is going to go when your client swerves to avoid a puppy in the road.  

The next commandment is to create empathy. ReferencingThinking Fast, Thinking Slowby Danny Kahneman, he explains how there are two distinct ways in which people make decisions – intuitive or logical and reasonable. It may seem backwards, but if you can get the jury to project empathy, they will begin to use more logic and analyze. Gregory then emphasizes empathy is NOT sympathy, and shares why it is such an important distinction. 

They move on to briefly discuss Michael’s favorite commandment, “drop the anchor” before the 10th and final commandment, “build the frame.” Citing Mark Mandell, Gregory elaborates that framing can be both overall and very minor. He and Michael both share examples they’ve used in cases which appear minor, but made a huge difference in the jury’s perception of a statement. 

They conclude the episode by discussing the third and final section of Gregory’s book, the new method for putting a case together. He describes how he uses the 10 commandments in such a clear and concise way anyone who puts in the work can do it. In fact, this strategy has been so successful that Gregory and his team have found it will move a good case 15-20% into the plaintiff lawyer’s favor! This incredibly informative episode is truly a must-listen for any plaintiff lawyer who wants a leg up with the jury!  

If you’d like to contact Gregory to learn more from him or to consult on a case, you can email him at greg@winningworks.com or call his office at 256-543-0400.  

 

Guest Bio:  

Gregory S. Cusimano is an owner of the law firm of Cusimano, Roberts, Mills & Knowlton, LLC in Gadsden, Al. and Winning Works LLC a national trial consulting firm. He concentrates his practice on serious personal injury and death cases.   He is a frequent speaker at continuing legal education programs throughout the country. Mr. Cusimano was twice elected to serve on AAJ’s Executive Committee and budget Committee, was chair of the ATLA Blue Ribbon Committee to study juror bias and continues to conduct research on tort reform rhetoric and juror attitudes.  He, along with David A. Wenner, developed the Jury Bias Model™ that many say revolutionized how cases are tried today. 

Cusimano has held every elected office in the Alabama Trial Lawyers Association, including president. The Association has honored him with an annual Cusimano Symposium.  He was appointed by the Alabama Supreme Court to committees to rewrite Alabama Rules of Evidence, the Alabama Pattern Jury Instructions, and to revise the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure. On two occasions, Mr. Cusimano was asked to be the plenary speaker at his State Bar Association’s annual meeting. He served on the President’s Council of the ATLA, (American Association for Justice – AAJ), and was the first to be made a Lifetime Member of the Board of Governors, 

Mr. Cusimano has published numerous articles in state and national magazines and contributed to articles in various treatises.  He is contributing editor of the two volume Alabama Tort Law book, through the fourth edition and co-edited the six-volume set Litigating Tort Cases. He is one of the authors to Winning Case Preparation  published by Trial Guides. He is listed in Best Lawyers of America and is a Life Member in the National Registry of Who’s Who in American Law. Cusimano was the second inductee into the Hall of Fame of the Small Office Practice Section of AAJ.  He is a Diplomate of the International Academy of Litigators and The American Board of Trial Advocates. The designation of Diplomat and Champion of Trial Advocacy was bestowed on him by AAJ’s National College of Advocacy.  He was inducted as a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation, and the Alabama Law Foundation.  Cusimano served as Chairperson of the National College of Advocacy.  He was given the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award by the Association of Trial Lawyers of America and the Leonard Ring Champion of Justice Award by AAJ. 

70 – Malorie Peacock – The Method: Our 9-Step Process for Evaluating & Working Up A Case

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with his law partner Malorie Peacock for an exciting preview of his upcoming Trial Guides book on trucking law. They’ll cover Michael’s 9-step method for case evaluation and detail each of those steps, so you can start applying them to your own case evaluation process.

They jump right into this episode with Step 1- initial triage. Michael explains how he derived the term from battlefield medicine, where patients are triaged based on the severity of their injuries and care is prioritized for the patients who need it most. He explains how trial lawyers only have a finite amount of resources, and the decision to put work into a case or not will effect more than just that case. It also takes those resources away from other cases and your personal life.

Michael then shares an example of how he used to work on automotive product liability cases, but his firm has since moved away from them. He has recently rejected five of these cases, even though they were all worthy cases someone will make money from. He chose to do this because these cases don’t fit in with his current docket, and there are other lawyers who will take them and excel at them because they do suit their dockets. Michael even sends his referral attorney to these other lawyers when the referral attorney brings him a case that he knows they will excel on – something that used to terrify him, but he’s since learned it builds an even stronger relationship between him and the referral attorney.

Before moving on to the next step, Michael clarifies that “Initial Triage” is NOT making a final decision on whether or not to accept the case. This step is simply deciding whether you want to look further into the case. In fact, Malorie clarifies that a lawsuit is typically not even filed until about Step 7 in this process.

Step 2 of “The Method” is to gather all the initially available information on the case. This information varies dramatically depending on the type of case it is, but the main goal of this step is to determine a general idea of the liability stories and issues with the case. Michael also explains the importance throughout this process of continually evaluating the case and asking, “Knowing what I know today, is this a case I would take?” If the answer is ever no, consider dropping the case. They conclude this step by discussing a recent example Malorie had of a case where the client was a great person and genuinely deserving, but the facts they discovered during this process made it a case that did not work on her docket.

Step 3 is to identify and analyze all potential immediate causes. Michael explains this as a brainstorming exercise where you record every possible immediate cause of the crash, even the causes that seem unlikely but are possible (for example, a bee in the vehicle). You then divide these potential causes into columns of “winners” and “losers.” Winners are causes which, if proven, help you win the case. Losers are causes which, if proven, mean you lose the case (or need to neutralize them).

After identifying the winners and losers in the case, you move on to Step 4 – conducting a root cause analysis. Michael explains how this concept was first developed by Mr. Toyota, the founder of Toyota Motor Company. Mr. Toyota decided that instead of fixing things when they went wrong, he would try to find the reason these things were going wrong by asking the “5 Why’s.”

To apply this to a case, you take the “winners” discussed in Step 3 and keep asking “Why?” until you find your ultimate root cause. Michael then shares an example from a rear-end case where he took the winner of “the truck driver rear-ended my client” and found “the company did not take the time or effort to train the driver” to be the root cause of the crash. He continues this process for every “winner” and develops multiple theories before he decides which theory he is going to use.

Malorie then re-emphasizes the fact that in an ideal world, you will not have filed the lawsuit yet at this point. They both agree there are times you need to file the lawsuit early to avoid any destroying of evidence, but if possible you should wait.

They move on to Step 5 – drafting the jury instructions. Michael shares how he used to feel doing this so early on was silly, but has since realized it really helps him design the case because he knows what he needs to prove. Malorie adds that doing this also better prepares you for depositions because you know what questions you need to be asking. She also emphasizes to not only look at liability instructions but also damage instructions. This all boils down to, “What do you have to prove?”

The next step in “The Method” is Step 6 – finding rules and anchors. These are authoritative sources for the rules, answering the question “says who?” Michael explains that this is one of the reasons he loves doing trucking cases, because there are so many rules and publications to use as anchors. The more sources that say a rule the better, because defendants are left with two choices: to say they know the rule and broke it, or to say they disagree with all those sources and have their own rule. Michael and Malorie then discuss numerous examples from different types of cases, showing that this method can be used on much more than trucking cases.

Malorie then asks Michael to clarify what an “anchor” is for those who don’t know. He explains an anchor as what you are “anchoring” your rules to. This is an authoritative source or publication of the rule, such as the CDL Manual, a driving company’s textbook, a store’s rules, an OSHA rule, and more. He then concludes this section by explaining how to arm your expert with these anchors to get the most out of their testimony.

Step 7 is to formulate the discovery plan. This is also where you draft the complaint or petition and plead what you need to get the discovery. For example, if you believe the root cause is negligent training, you need information to prove they have a negligent training system. Then, you formulate the discovery plan based on that. Michael cautions strongly against asking another lawyer for their interrogatories before drafting your own. You need to formulate your own based on your theories to prove what you need to prove. You can then use a form to double check and make sure you didn’t miss anything. Michael and Malorie then agree on a fantastic practice tip which makes this process a lot easier and discuss the importance of brainstorming with colleagues.

As discussed earlier, now is the ideal time to file the lawsuit. Then, step 8 is to continually re-evaluate the case. Malorie highlights the need to do this throughout each of the steps as well and to keep notes on what you’ve done so far to avoid repeating any unnecessary work. Michael then explains how as new facts, research, depositions, and discovery emerges, your initial root cause might not be the best strategy anymore and that’s okay. Malorie echoes this statement and adds that too many lawyers are afraid to ask for what they really want in discovery, and more lawyers should be specific and ask for specific documents referenced in other documents.

The above steps were mostly completed before you have all of the information about the case, which Michael cites to further emphasize the point that re-evaluation is key. He then shares some techniques he’s developed at his firm to ensure this gets done by all of his lawyers.

Michael and Malorie conclude the episode with the final step in “The Method”- test the case. Michael explains how the method of which you test the case varies depending on the value of it and lists a number of unconventional methods to do this on a budget. He then lists the advantages and disadvantages of other more conventional methods, including in-person focus groups and online studies like John Campbell’s Empirical Jury. While no method is 100% accurate, they can give you a good idea of where you stand.

This podcast also covers why you should file a FOIA request immediately, how implementing “vulnerability-based trust” by Patrick Lencioni has helped his firm, how to disprove or neutralize “losers” in a case, how Michael applies parts of this method to his employees, why you should research rules BEFORE hiring an expert, why you need to be constantly re-evaluating your case, and so much more.

31 – Malorie Peacock – Proven Techniques for Proving Damages

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In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with Cowen | Rodriguez | Peacock partner, Malorie Peacock, to answer the questions of our listeners. This show focuses on how to prove your client’s harms and losses at trial.

The first listener question is regarding the idea of whether 3X the medical bills is typically what you use to determine damages or does that only apply in certain cases? Michael recalls being taught the 3X “rule of thumb” back when he was first starting as a trial lawyer, but since then, no longer does for several reasons. First and foremost, times have changed along with insurance company practices. If an insurance company or defense attorney does start to talk to you about 3X medical bills, it’s likely because your case is worth a lot more than that. Instead, Michael focuses on what a jury might do when they look at each element of damage (pain, mental anguish, impairment, or whatever the measure of damage is in a particular state) individually and determine what they feel compelled to put in each blank. That, paired with what Michael calls “piss off factors” based on things the defense might do to compel a juror to give full justice for, becomes a number he’d like to keep as high as possible. Of course, he also takes into account whether his client is for some reason not likable or the defense is super likable, which can also affect the jury’s motivation in an adverse way for his case. Malorie also brings up another important note on the effects of jurors taking into consideration the percentage of fault even though they are instructed not to do so. To which Michael elaborates a little more on how to potentially work the messaging of that to the jury.

The next question by our listeners is how do you work up damages, especially in a smaller case that doesn’t warrant bringing in experts or producing lots of exhibits? Michael starts to answer this question by clarifying that experts generally do not help work up damages, but rather help to prove calculations on future medical expenses or a vocational loss. Having said that, with regard to the human and non-economic damages, he believes people who come in and talk about your client, how they were before, what they went through, and what they are like now can have the biggest impact. This also doesn’t cost any money toward the case. It does, however, take a lot of time in order to visit with these people to talk through what they know of the client before, during, and after, as well as collect photos or videos showing the client in a different state prior to suffering damages, etc. Michael discusses how this approach, even by taking the time to meet with people and learning your client’s story better, will make you more authentic in the courtroom which can have a profound impact on your case. Malorie sums this point up reminding us that all of our clients are more than just their injuries.

The next question they explore is regarding a wrongful death case without economic damages, which Malorie takes the reins on and starts with conveying just how hard it is to put a number on life when no amount of money will ever replace someone’s loved one. She goes on to elaborate that although you can do focus groups, they are not truly predictive. It will always boil down to the 12 jurors you get on any specific day in court who will ultimately put that number on a case. Michael adds that liability is what really tends to drive the number in wrongful death cases and it sometimes becomes very hard to have a conversation with the surviving family member(s) on the difference in the value of life versus the value of a case. He also shares how going to trial in a death case is extremely tough for the family as they relive one of the most painful events in their lives, which places a real responsibility on us as lawyers to make sure we are doing the right thing. Whether that means turning down an offer that is not sufficient to go to trial to fight for more and making an informed choice while understanding upfront the process and pain that will likely come with going through the details all over again. Malorie also describes the importance of knowing your client (a common theme throughout this episode) and understanding their goals, hopes, and struggles for their future to be able to help guide them through the conversation about money.

Proving grief is another topic Michael and Malorie explore with the belief from some jurors that everyone dies at some point. They both agree that there is a definite difference between dying when it’s time and dying when it’s not your time because of a tragic incident. Michael also points out the balancing act that occurs when you don’t want to “torture” your client and make them cry by bringing up all the pain and suffering they encounter now that their loved one is no longer here vs. focusing on the hopes that were and the plans for the future that have now changed because of the actions of someone else. He also points out that this is a good time to utilize experts like grief counselors and let them talk about the pain and suffering your client is, and will, experience due to the loss as well as the grieving process and the natural cycle of grieving to help paint an appropriate picture for the jury. They also give several other examples of ways to express the pain and loss without having to pull tears out of the surviving family members directly.

Michael and Malorie continue their abundance mentality by sharing so much great information in this episode on topics like when to submit and when not to submit a medical bill toward damages; avoiding the status quo and navigating a case to motivate a jury to give your client the justice they deserve; where do your client’s harms and losses fit into the greater story of the trial; an ideal “3 act” trial story through the juror’s eyes; how not to present your client’s harms and losses in a vacuum; how to get your client’s actual story (hint – it’s not what you might think); tips on utilizing psychodramatic methods; expediting the process of spending time with your client to understand their story; how Pareto’s Law can be applied to your docket; and so much more.

These Table Talk podcasts could not happen without the interaction and questions that are submitted by our listeners. We are eternally grateful for and encourage you to continue to send us your thoughts, ideas, and questions as we love sharing our experiences with all of you.

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