Legal dramas and courtroom shows are wildly popular. They present lawyers as these suave, boisterous characters with an endlessly persuasive and emotional attitude, and courtrooms themselves as wild free-for-alls of flying statements meant to grip jury and audience alike. It’s no wonder our clients are sometimes confused about how proceedings go after they experience their first day in court!
Just like there are certain legal proceedings for how evidence can be gathered and used to make a case, there are also certain ways lawyers inside a courtroom are allowed to present their arguments. Contrary to popular belief, lawyers aren’t allowed to make whatever statements they please or address the jury from whatever angle they would like. Courtrooms are meant to be places of fact and logic. If emotional or unprovable statements are made by lawyers, then it could sway the jury in unreasonable directions. And that’s not fair or just for anyone involved.
Q: Is my lawyer allowed to say whatever they would like in court?
A: While our job and mission is to argue your case and get you the results you’re looking for to the very best of our abilities, there are several items and topics that court systems have actually made it illegal for personal injury lawyers to refer to or use. If a lawyer does overstep these boundaries, their statements can be objected by the opposing counsel, or the trial can even be considered a mistrial, and the process would have to start all over.
When it comes to civil trial arguments, the “big four” questions or statements that all lawyers—whether for the plaintiff or for the defendant—are supposed to stay away from are:
1. Asking the jury to “Put yourselves in my client’s shoes.”
2. Stating that a client’s damages are worth a calculable per diem amount.
3. Stating that a person is only suing so they can win a lottery’s worth of money.
4. Explain where the ultimate compensation is actually coming from (the insurance company).
Q: Why can’t you say, “Put yourself in my client’s shoes”?
A: This statement is considered invoking the “Golden Rule,” an argument that is universally recognized as improper to say and it can actually lead to a mistrial. Civil trial cases are intended to be argued based upon universal and unprejudiced provable facts rather than emotions. But the statement to “put yourself in the client’s shoes,” or to try and imagine, from their perspective, what the client might be going through, isn’t a “provable” perspective. It’s impossible for the jury to understand what the client is thinking and feeling, just as it’s impossible for any human to undeniably know, for a fact, how another person is experiencing their own life or the world around them. For this reason, “putting yourself in the client’s shoes” is seen as a very emotional point of view, and as such, could sway the jury to make a decision based on elements other than provable facts.
Q: Why can’t damages be calculated on a per-diem basis?
A: A per diem, or per day, calculation cannot be used to determine how much a victim should be compensated monetarily at the end of a personal injury case because it’s impossible to justly determine such a finite amount. Say, for example, that a lawyer attempts to argue that their client’s broken leg is worth $100 a day for the next five years, and so the compensation amount should equate to $182,500 based on that math. At a glance, this might seem reasonable. But when you really start to consider how that number was reached, a number of faulty questions begin to surface.
For starters, how did the lawyer conclude exactly how much each day of this particular damage is worth? Then, how did they determine the length of time for which the injury would affect their client? Also, how is it possible to determine that this particular leg injury is deserving of this particular amount, when a similar leg injury suffered by another person in a different case might have received an entirely different amount of compensation for it?
There are just way too many variables from case to case and person to person to even attempt to try and assign a finite day-by-day dollar amount to injuries. Even though insurance companies love to attempt to do just that, the reality is that a personal injury claim compensation amount can only be determined on a uniquely “human scale,” and that scale has too many factors to try and put into an algebraic equation.
Q: Why can’t a lawyer use the term “lottery” when talking about the reason for the lawsuit?
A: Specifically, the lawyer for the defendant cannot claim that the plaintiff, or victim, is only suing because the amount of money they would receive would be equivalent to “winning the lottery”. Similar to the reason you can’t ask the jury to step into another’s shoes, this type of statement is made on an emotional—not factual—basis, and so is frowned upon in court.
Legally, personal injury lawsuits are filed in an effort to make it so that the injured person has the means they need to adequately heal the injuries unjustly caused to them by another. Most often, those means require money—sometimes a lot of it—for things like medical bills, ongoing care, loss of working ability, loss of property, and more. The victim is far removed from the “luck” of something like winning the lottery—in fact, what some victims are forced to go through is just about as unlucky as a person can get. Therefore, the defense cannot attempt to sour the jury into assuming the victim has filed a lawsuit because they want to essentially win a lottery’s worth of money. Otherwise, the jury is obviously going to be much more reluctant to award the compensation the victim needs to even attempt to once again live the normal life that was stripped from them by the defendant’s actions.
Q: Why can’t lawyers explain that the defendant’s insurance company will be paying the damages?
A: Specifically, it’s the lawyer for the plaintiff that cannot explain to the jury that even though the lawsuit is being filed against the defendant themselves—for example, the driver responsible for the car accident or semi-truck accident—it will ultimately be the defendant’s insurance company paying out the damages. For one, if the jury is made to believe that the defendant themselves has nothing to lose monetarily if they lose the case, then that could sway their ultimate decision in a way that’s not based upon the facts of the case itself.
But in the long run, where that money comes from really should have no bearing on whether or not it’s awarded to the victim. Again, the case is about helping the victim to repair their life—it’s not about how much money they think they can drain from another person or a large company. That’s why most often, the defendant and their law team will be in the courtroom, but no representatives or members of the defendant’s insurance company will be present. Their presence and any mention of their role at the end of the case should have no bearing on the facts at hand.
Q: So how does Finney Injury Law successfully argue cases?
A: With clear facts, logic, and an understanding of the proper way to convince a jury of what our clients deserve. When you’ve suffered injuries due to someone else’s negligence, we know that there is always concrete evidence of some kind to prove that fact. So we gather it and present it clearly, and in doing so, help the jury to see that you deserve to be fairly compensated. When we do our jobs right, we don’t need flashy emotional statements that walk the line of immoral or illegal gray areas. And we always stand up and object when the opposing counsel attempts to dip into one of those areas.
We win cases for our clients because we’re unafraid to thoroughly explore and present the facts of what happened. But on top of that, we have the experience and know-how to convince the jury to make the right decision based on those facts alone—just as our country’s legal system has always intended.