opening statement

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.

 

83 – Cliff Atkinson – Beyond Bullet Points: The Art of Visual Storytelling

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with consultant Cliff Atkinson. Cliff has worked with some of the top trial lawyers in the country to help them better tell their clients’ stories. He and Michael discuss his path to success, what he’s found effective for telling stories at trial, how to use the visual medium to help tell a story and where to find good visuals, the creative process, and how Zoom effects our ability to present information.

Cliff and Michael begin the episode with a look at Cliff’s backstory. He shares how he first used PowerPoint for a business school project in the late 90’s, where he added bullet pointed information into the slides like everyone else. A few years later while looking at some blank slides, he realized it could be SO much more than that. As he began writing articles about using PowerPoint as a creative medium, he began receiving attention. After consulting with General Electric’s board, he was approached by Microsoft to write a book about using PowerPoint creatively, which became the bestseller “Beyond Bullet Points”. After Mark Lanier read his book and couldn’t put it down, he was brought in on his first case- Mark’s legendary $253 million verdict against Vioxx, and the rest is history.

Michael then digs deeper into what Cliff has found effective for telling our stories at trial. While Cliff is well-known for his PowerPoint prowess, he insists the story needs to be crafted before you can even THINK about the visuals. Once you have your story, the visuals ride on top of it, magnify it, and make it more powerful.

Michael notes how it can be a challenge to distill the vast number of facts in a case into a story, and asks Cliff for his advice on how to craft a compelling story. He starts with finding the structure using a 3-part story tool template. It’s about making it clear, concise, and powerful. But Cliff insists that it’s NOT about dumbing it down for the jury, it’s about distilling it down. Michael wholeheartedly agrees with this statement and adds that it’s about trusting and respecting the jurors – a recurring theme in this podcast. Cliff then refers to a concept from the book “Made to Stick” called “The Curse of Knowledge.” If you’ve been working on something for a long time and you’re explaining it to someone who hasn’t seen it before, you’re going to have a hard time looking at it like a beginner.

Cliff then begins to elaborate on how to incorporate the visual medium into your story. After sharing an inspiring example of this being done successfully in Mark Lanier’s Vioxx trial, Cliff eloquently explains this verbiage is the infrastructure for the visual. Once you find your engaging thematic element, the visuals are easy to find. He likes to keep images simple and shares an example from a very complex financial case. He used a blue bucket to demonstrate the key facts of the case, and it simplified the case so well the jurors were asking about it after the case and it undoubtedly helped the attorney win. The key is to make the experience fun and entertaining for the jury.

After a brief but insightful discussion of high tech vs. low tech visuals, Cliff highlights some of his favorite ways to find visuals. The largest source would be items you already have, including documents, PDFs, screen captures from Google Earth, and dashcam video. Once you have all of those visuals, you can do custom 3D constructions, or just do a Google image search to see what’s out there. If you find something close to what you’d like, you can easily hire a freelance graphic designer to create the image you want. Michael then shares some of his favorite low-budget visuals he’s created in his career, and urges listeners to think outside of the box before shelling out $20,000 for an elaborate model.

On the topic of creative thinking, Cliff highly recommends setting aside space in your office for a “creative room.” Keep all the courtroom toys in there, and encourage your lawyers to spend time exploring the visceral part of communication they can so easily feel removed from. Michael shares how some lawyers can be scared to get creative and break away from what’s been done in the past. Cliff agrees, and suggests those lawyers focus on wanting the jurors to have fun. Then, have fun with helping THEM have fun.

Lastly, Michael and Cliff discuss how to tell a story effectively over Zoom. Cliff’s main takeaways involve doing the little things to get an edge over the other side. Things like upgrading your webcam, microphone, and lighting can make a massive difference in your ethos and how the jury perceives your story. He likens a messy background in a Zoom meeting to wearing a crappy suit in court, it worsens your credibility.

To take it a step further, Cliff recommends looking into software you can use to enhance the experience even further. He highly recommends ECAMM or Manycam if you’re on a tighter budget. These tools allow you to be your own videographer and can even create a more engaging experience than if you were with them in person.

If you’d like to learn more about or work with Cliff Atkinson, visit his website. He offers full-day private workshops on storytelling and a course to teach you how to implement these techniques yourself, which Cliff believes is the future.

This podcast episode also covers more details on Mark Lanier’s Vioxx trial, how haikus can help you become a better advocate, why the “Rule of 3’s” exists, whether high tech or low tech visuals are more effective, how Zoom can be even better than in-person videography, and so much more.

Guest Bio:

Cliff Atkinson is an acclaimed writer, popular keynote speaker, and an independent communications consultant to leading attorneys and Fortune 500 companies. He crafted the presentation that persuaded a jury to award a $253 million verdict to the plaintiff in the nation’s first Vioxx trial in 2005, which Fortune magazine called “frighteningly powerful.

Cliff’s bestselling book Beyond Bullet Points (published by Microsoft Press) was named a Best Book of 2007 by the editors of Amazon.com, and has been published in four editions and translated into a dozen languages including Chinese, Korean, and Russian.  His work has been featured in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, and Fox News.

 

74 – Ed Ciarimboli – Masked Justice: Part 3

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with fellow trial lawyer Ed Ciarimboli from Pennsylvania. Ed is part of the elite class of lawyers who have been able to take a case to trial in the COVID era. And with the final witness testimony being so monumental to the case that they settled immediately after he left the witness box, this trial story is one you need to hear to believe!

They begin with a brief discussion of Ed’s background and how he started trying cases. A partner at a 12-lawyer and 3 location firm, Fellerman & Ciarimboli, Ed mainly focuses on commercial motor vehicle cases. He got into the AAJ speaking circuit about 9 years ago, where he began to really hone his skills as a lawyer. It was a couple of years after that when he was told he needed to become great at trying cases. When Ed asked why, the other lawyer responded, “Because you’re the worst lawyer I’ve ever seen at settling a case.” So, Ed took the advice and has since focused his energy on being as comfortable as possible in the courtroom.

When asked to elaborate on what he did to develop his skills as a trial lawyer, Ed insists the biggest factor was his investment in his education. He urges young lawyers to do more than join a webinar- they should go to conferences and workshops to truly focus on the different aspects of trial and HOW they’re doing it. Body language and movement are crucial to a lawyer’s performance in the courtroom, and after working with a long list of consultants and gurus on these topics, Ed encourages everyone who wants to be a great trial lawyer to put the effort into this.

He then clarifies that this doesn’t mean following the dogmatic approach of one pro- it’s about learning the fundamentals (taking depositions, cross-examinations, etc.) then studying different approaches to storytelling and choosing the best one for your particular case.  This approach requires much more work than a cookie-cutter strategy, but both Ed and Michael agree that it’s well worth the effort.

Michael then starts to dig into the facts of Ed’s case, which was unique and incredibly tragic. Ed explains how the defendant company purchased a huge molding machine from a broker. The defendant company signed the paperwork and assumed responsibility for the machine, then hired a crane company for the rigging and transportation of said machine. The crane company was told nothing about the details of the machine, notably the 55-gallon drum of hydraulic fluid still inside the machine. In the process of moving the machine onto the flatbed truck for transportation, the hydraulic fluid sloshed to the side and caused the machine to tip over onto Ed’s client, killing him instantly.

Ed then explains how they ended up suing the company who purchased the machine and shares how his extensive work on commercial motor vehicle cases set him up for success on this case. Ed knew the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations “100 million times better than the defense,” which he used to his advantage in placing the blame on the defendant company whose only real defense was, “We hired this company.”

Michael continues the conversation by asking Ed how jury selection was handled. Ed shares how voir dire was conducted in a large old theater instead of a courtroom in order to allow for safe spacing between the potential jurors. And while he admits he was more nervous for this jury selection than any he’s ever done before, the process went incredibly smoothly. He gives high praise to the judge, his jury consultants, and the jurors themselves, stating, “I truly believe we won this case in jury selection.” He also notes that the demographic composition of the jury pool was not skewed, something which will surprise listeners who believed COVID would cause people to resist sitting on a jury.

Ed then shares the setup of the courtroom, which included the jurors sitting in the gallery with two large screens in front of them. He explains in-depth the lengths he and his team went to effectively present to a jury largely spaced out, including the widespread use of visuals that any trial lawyer trying to get back in the courtroom needs to hear.

Michael then digs deeper into Ed’s sequencing of the case and presentation to the jury, which is something he did with incredible craft and thoughtfulness. He began by simply stating, “George James went to work one day and never came back. Why?” before introducing the jury to the company, who was very experienced in dealing with hazardous materials. He then boiled this complex case down into one simple graphic of the transportation cycle, highlighting the defendant company was both the shipper and the receiver of the machine.

Ed then called the corporate representative as his first witness, who did “TERRIBLE,” and came off smug, angry, and unwilling to accept the responsibility which was so clearly his. Next was their expert, then the moment which Ed was most concerned about, the client’s blue-collar co-workers from the crane company. His fears were quickly abandoned as these witnesses talked plainly and honestly about their lack of experience with hazardous materials, further securing the blame on the defendant company who assumed the responsibility. But the most powerful moment of all was seeing the way they all talked about Ed’s client and how amazing of a person he was, causing many of them to break down on the stand.

As the trial went on, the defense kept offering more money to settle the case, but it was nowhere near enough. Ed had rested and was ready for closing until the defense called their final witness, an economic expert. While Ed had chosen to leave economic damages out of the case completely, the defense thought it wise to have their witness testify that based on the client’s income and life expectancy, his life was only worth $61,000.

Considering the client was such an upstanding person that his EX-WIFE was one of the key damage witnesses, this was a shocking move. After Ed’s brutal cross-examination of this witness (which you need to hear to fully appreciate), he was rushed in the hallway by corporate counsel eager to settle for the amount he wanted. Ed agreed and the case was settled right before closing.

While Ed’s trial story and success in the age of COVID are admirable, Michael wants to know – would Ed recommend other lawyers to push their cases to trial, or should they wait until COVID has passed? Ed simply states, “I say do it.” It’s scary filled with uncertainty, but as lawyers, we are not doing our jobs if we are not pushing our cases.

As a follow-up, Michael curiously asks, “What about if your only option is a Zoom trial?” to which Ed is a bit more hesitant. They go back and forth discussing the merits and limitations of Zoom trials, which Michael is set to partake in starting February 1st. Ed praises Michael for taking this leap and wishes him luck in this upcoming trial.

This podcast episode also covers why sequencing your witnesses properly is so important, using experts, how Ed found his “best jurors,” the details of the FMCSR’s on transporting hazardous material, what the jurors said when Ed reached out to them post-trial, and so much more. This is truly an inspiring trial story that you DON’T want to miss!

 

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

 

Guest Bio:

Attorney Edward Ciarimboli is a founding partner at Fellerman & Ciarimboli Law PC. He graduated from Wilkes University with a dual degree in political science and engineering and applied science. While at Duquesne University School of Law, he was admitted to the Order of Barristers for Excellence in Courtroom Advocacy and was named a national semi-finalist in the American Trial Lawyers Association Moot Court Competition.

After receiving his Juris Doctor, Attorney Ciarimboli served as a law clerk to the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas and the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

Attorney Ciarimboli concentrates his practice on trucking and auto collision and medical malpractice litigation. He is active in many professional organizations, including the American Association for Justice, the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, and the Luzerne County and Pennsylvania Bar Associations. He serves on AAJ’s National College of Advocacy Board of Trustees and the Board of Governors for the Pennsylvania Association of Justice, donates to AAJ’s PAC, and is a member of AAJ’s Trucking Litigation Group; Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway and Premises Liability; Insurance Law; and Professional Negligence sections.

Attorney Ciarimboli has been selected for inclusion in the Pennsylvania Super Lawyers® list every year since 2008. He was named Top 40 Under 40 by the National Trial Lawyers Association and named to the Top 10 National Trial Lawyers’ Trucking Trial Lawyers Association. He was also named as one of the Nation’s Top One Percent by the National Association Distinguished Counsel.

In addition to his extensive trial practice, Attorney Ciarimboli frequently teaches lawyers across the country on both deposition and trial skills.

Attorney Ciarimboli is also an active member of his community. With his partner, Attorney Greg Fellerman, he began the Safe Prom Pledge in 2010 as a way to promote a drug-free and alcohol-free prom night for students throughout Eastern Pennsylvania. To date, they have spoken to more than 25,000 high school students on the dangers of driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

Attorney Ciarimboli lives in a 115-year-old farmhouse with his wife, Jennifer, their children, two dogs, two cats, countless chickens, roosters, and an occasional pheasant.

 

68 – Chris Madeksho – Masked Justice: Part 2

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with another trail blazing trial lawyer, Chris Madeksho. Chris recently received a $13.9 million jury verdict on a Mesothelioma case tried in person using social distancing and other safety measures. They discuss Chris’s background, the details and challenges of the case he tried, the safety measures taken, and the numerous strategies Chris used to win this fantastic verdict in the age of COVID-19.

Chris specializes in toxic tort and was introduced to the area by his late father, who worked in asbestos installation when he was young and went on to become a trial lawyer. He began his practice in Texas, but later moved his principal office to California due to Texas tort reform. As most great trial lawyers do, he then attended the Trial Lawyers College and began learning from the other great trial lawyers and scholars in the arena, citing Sari de la Motte, Eric Penn, Nick Rowley, Keith Mitnik, and R. Rex Parris.

Michael then asks Chris about the details of the case he tried. Chris’s client was a 68-year old Mesothelioma patient who worked as an asbestos installer from ages 9 to 19. Because of some criminal details in his background, Chris was forced to drop the loss of consortium claim and only request damages in personal injury, BUT was still awarded $13 million in non-economic damages alone.

With this impressive verdict, Michael asks Chris if the defense wanted to try the case or not. Chris responds with a resounding, “No.” In fact, they even opposed Chris’s waiver of jury when he attempted to get a bench trial. So Chris pushed forward, complied with the judge’s orders, and was completely prepared for trial when the time came.

Chris then explains how the jury summons and voir dire process was handled safely. The summonses were sent out via email and included COVID-19 hardship questions. He shares how we know our most dangerous jurors are people who are not afraid of COVID-19, but our second most dangerous jurors are people who are there who don’t want to be. Eliminating people who don’t want to be there was very helpful in that respect.

But, a jury summons by email has its downfalls. The biggest being that the demographics of the jury pool were not representative of the populous. The resulting jury was more affluent, more connected with technology, and more conservative than a typical King County jury would be. But as Chris puts it, “When you have a client who’s going to die if you don’t try the case now, you just do the best you can.”

After summoning the jury pool, voir dire was conducted mostly through Zoom with only two panels attending in person due to security concerns. These in person panelists were separated by a 6-foot spacer and their voir dire took place in a convention center to allow for safe distancing. While Chris believes he connected better with the in-person panelists, the resulting jury ended up being comprised of 14 virtual panelists and only 1 in person panelist.

The pair then move on to discuss Chris’s storytelling strategy. Chris explains how he’s worked extensively with Sari de la Motte and employed many of her Hostage to Hero strategies to craft his opening and closing arguments. He also emphasizes the importance of being “at ease” when speaking to the jury with a mask on. He shares the perfect analogy of being in a dark room where you can only see the other person’s eyes – you’re going to focus heavily on what you can see, so your eyes need to appear honest and relaxed.

Chris’s opening also focused heavily on the conduct of the defendant, a story he told by choosing the “villain” to be a corporate representative who is still alive. He decided to use her as the villain because she is more tangible to the jury than someone who may have done a lot of harm, but isn’t alive to pay for their wrongdoings. Chris and Michael then have a very insightful conversation on if the villain needs to be a person, or if the villain can simply be the organization as a whole – a subject discussed on this podcast in the past.

Michael then asks about how Chris told the damages story at trial, which Chris boiled down to “This is a man who worked his entire childhood. Now that he’s in his final days, he’s living his childhood for the first time.” He then shares how this powerful story was made stronger by getting the defense doctor to share the horrors of Mesothelioma – a useful strategy which every listener needs to hear.

The pair ends the episode with the defense’s shocking (and unsuccessful) closing argument. The defense lawyer basically said, “A lot of people are going to be dying painful deaths in this COVID era. They’re not getting any money.” As he said that, the jury set their tablets down and nobody wrote for the remainder of his argument. Chris agrees to share the transcripts for the full details, but the defense effectively ostracized themselves from the jury at this exact moment. While plaintiff lawyers everywhere have been concerned about this being used successfully against them, Chris’s experience shows it was ineffective.

If you’d like to reach Chris Madeksho, you can email him at cmadeksho@madeksholaw.com or visit his website at www.madeksholaw.com. He’s been kind enough to make himself available to speak with any plaintiff attorney who’s looking to get back in the courtroom and wants to learn from his experience.

This podcast also covers the intricacies of asbestos cases, the importance of putting your family first, working through personal issues with clients, Chris’s courtroom layout, trusting the jury, Chris’s advice for trial lawyers who want to improve, and so much more.

 

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

 

Bio:

Chris is licensed to practice law in three states – Texas, California and Washington State, and he has a national reputation for managing asbestos and other toxic torts. He has represented mesothelioma and toxic injury clients in courtrooms from New York to California, and from the Midwest down to Texas.  Chris is a graduate of the nationally-renowned Trial Lawyers College and is a fluent Spanish and French speaker.

In addition to trying cases for victims of cancer and toxic torts, Chris routinely tries cases pro bono for low-income families facing eviction in the Los Angeles area. He participated as trial counsel and adviser to tenants in the largest rent strike in Los Angeles County history. The tenants prevailed in their strike and the landlord eventually dismissed his eviction lawsuits after losing several trials. Helping his community is a passion for Chris.

Outside of work, you’ll find Chris spending time with his family — they especially enjoy gardening, exploring the outdoors, making music, and enjoying good food together. Chris’s dream is to eventually use his time and resources to reforest American ecosystems.

 

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