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Personal Injury Case: Thoughts on Clients in Trial

The trial of an automobile accident case is very often difficult on the client and their family.  The great majority of my clients have never had there credibility, integrity and memory tested in front of a group of people they don’t know.  Often they have never been to court before and the entire process is new and disturbing to them.  After over fifty (50) jury trials in personal injury cases one thing is certain; those clients who can stay focused, prepared and above all keep their tempers fair well regardless of the outcome. Juries are merely a manifestation of a segment of our population.  It is what makes a jury verdict so indicative of what we believe should happen and at the same time magnifies every jurors personal experience. In North Carolina attorneys get to question the jury verbally about their prior experiences, bias and feelings on serving on the jury.  The client often gets to witness this portion of the trial called voire dire or jury selection.  I try to get my client involved at this point in the process for quite a few reasons including and especially to get my client familiar with how it feels to answer questions in front of a group. Answering personal questions is difficult.  Client’s who do well on the stand all seem to answer the questions without fighting the person asking the questions.  Asking the adverse attorney why they are asking a question, arguing with them about your answer or denying obvious inconsistencies lead to loosing credibility even when there is nothing wrong with the testimony.  Although it is difficult, slowing down your answers and making sure that you are being honest and open with the jury will go along way.  Don’t fight over the questions, merely answer them to the best of your ability no matter which attorney is asking you questions. The defense attorney’s job is often to create doubt in the minds of the jurors as  to the amount and type of damages recovered.  Jurors, like the rest of us, want to know that we are doing the right thing.  If a defense attorney makes it appear as if someone was injured less than they truely were, the defense attorney has done their job. One way clients fall into the insurance defense attorney trap is by their body language.  Regardless of the actual answers to the questions, the way, manner and appearance given while answering questions is very important.  Do you appear angry?  Are your arms folded across your chest?  Do you appear to care about the trial?  Do you act inappropriately injured (more or less injured than the doctor will testify about your injuries).  All of these considerations go into the jury’s decision to award damages. The jury has to like a plaintiff or at least identify with a plaintiff in order to award damages.  When a client testifies they must be themselves.  Their language should match how they normally speak.  In other words, they should not use words they don’t typically use as it will be obvious to the jury that they are uncomfortable speaking in that manner.  They should also remember why they are there; not to punish a defendant, but instead, to be compensated for the amount of damages they have sustained as a result of the defendant’s actions.  What is important is their own experiences.  Talk about things that are most important to you — was there a time you could not tie your shoes, vacuum the floor, cook for your family or even drive a car to work?  These are all common everyday experiences that jurors can identify and appreciate. Finally, speak clearly and slowly and always understand the question before answering.  So many times a client allows themselves to be so nervous they forget to listen to the question before answering.  Answering the wrong question helps no one and only decreases your credibility with the jury.  Remember, your word, your honesty is all you have with a jury.  Don’t allow your own frustration at having to testify get in the way.


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