Saturday, June 13, 2015

More on jury duty: lawyers

The contrast between the two lawyers was very striking. One clearly knew exactly how to conduct a trial like the one my jury heard, the other was equally clearly thrashing about. Summarizing the two cases:

Plaintiff: there was a rear-end collision*, defendant's car at the rear of plaintiff's car. Plaintiff has been getting medical and chiropractic treatment for three years for debilitating headaches that began after the collision. Plaintiff is a good woman who traveled to Indonesia to help people struck by the tsunami (work she can no longer do). She is well thought of by her neighbors, co-workers, and fellow church members.

In support of this case, plaintiff's lawyer took us through the plaintiff's extensive medical treatments at least four times in considerable detail. Aside from character witnesses, he presented the plaintiff herself, who was very nervous on the stand; her chiropractor; and an accident reconstruction expert who basically agreed with defense's accident reconstruction expert except for saying plaintiff's head could have suffered significant forces, even though the collision was only at about 7 mph. At times, plaintiff's lawyer seemed to be drawing out his witnesses' testimony by asking minimally relevant, repetitive questions while frequently checking the courtroom clock. He made at least one egregious error: cross-examining the defendant, accusing him of an inconsistency between his deposition and his testimony, dramatically handing him a transcript of the deposition and challenging him to show otherwise. Defendant examined the transcript on the stand and found the material the lawyer had said wasn't there, Oops.

Defendant: while defendant admits the fact of the collision, well-credentialed experts in accident reconstruction, human biomechanics, and neurology say the impact of that collision could not have caused the symptoms plaintiff suffers.  Defendant's lawyer was at all times courteous, professional, and on-point. I don't believe he cross-examined plaintiff at all, which got him points from me, because she seemed so anxious. He didn't need to emphasize points in testimony that supported his side, apparently believing that we, the jury, would understand what was being said without his having to repeat or simplify the information. I had to wonder whether he, the lawyer, was hired by defendant's insurance company.

In a way, the whole thing was scary. If you have the better lawyer, you have a much better chance of prevailing in court. That should be obvious, but seeing it in action adds color and depth. Before this trial, I would have thought of a "good" lawyer as one who reminded me of Perry Mason. Now I see that it's not melodramatics, it's having control of the material of the case and presenting that material in a clear, concise, consistent manner that creates trust and credibility.

*The facts of the case: both plaintiff and defendant were stopped at a red light. Light turned green, both began to drive forward. Plaintiff saw an ambulance approaching on the cross-street, stopped at mid-intersection. Defendant, immediately behind her, was looking elsewhere, was unable to stop before colliding with the rear of plaintiff's car. Damage to both cars was minimal, judging by the repair estimates.


  1. I'd have been for the defendant too even though it's too bad that such a worthy plaintiff has found no way of compensating herself for her debilitating headaches--for 3 years! It seems very likely to me that her headaches have some other cause, and wouldn't it be quite difficult to prove a connection between her headaches and the (slight) collision? Sounds as if they just didn't make much of a case, and maybe a case just couldn't be made of this material. Defendant must have been tailgating but that seems to happen so often that unless severe damage is caused by one of those collisions that happen because of tailgating, I can't see that the plaintiff has a case. Even the best lawyer to be had might not have won this one but all I know is from watching "Judge Judy" years ago and of course "Perry Mason" before that.

    The time of onset of her headaches might be significant. Was that mentioned? Gee, maybe she DID have a good case.

  2. Intteresting! Thanks for filling us in.