“Sequencing” Tips For Personal Injury Cases

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Plaintiff Lawyer Trial Tips has posted a helpful article with some tips on how to proceed when telling your story in front of a judge or jury in court.

Start the story with the defendant and not the plaintiff:

When a series of focus studies were done across the country the outcome confirmed what was already an accepted fact. That fact is that people apply “availability bias” as listen to a story and immediately begin to fill in the blanks by asking themselves questions about the behavior of the activity they are told about. They immediately raise issues in their own mind about the conduct of what went on focusing on negative possible factors that might explain what happened. If you start your story by talking first about the defendant’s conduct, the Jurors will construct their understanding of the case in the context of the defendant’s behavior. Questions about why the defendant did or didn’t something that caused it to happen are raised as you describe the conduct. You want the initial focus on the negligent conduct of the defendant.

You need to create a “good guy vs. bad guy” picture in the jury’s heads in which the plaintiff should have known better and seen the accident coming. Also, if the plaintiff goes first, they control the sequence the story of the incident is told as well as the order of witnesses.

Plan the order in which to tell the story:

“Sequencing” your timeline is very important. The story has to make sense so the jury can fill in the blanks in their minds. It’s suggested you begin with the defendant’s conduct. As jurors concentrate on that, they will develop their own story and seek evidence to support it.

The sequence of proof strongly influences decisions. Therefore, the first witness is most important. This is the witness that should connect facts, give them meaning and influence decision makers. The principles of primacy and sequencing go hand in hand. Sequencing is about the order of topics in a story, not the order of facts. Primacy deals with the fact we tend to believe what we first hear.

The normal story sequence is:

(1) Step one: What happened? who, what, when, where and how?
(2) Step Two: How could it happen? Why – what went wrong?
(3) Step Three: What were and are the consequences?

The plaintiff who goes first in trial basically has complete control over the jury’s first impressions of the “evil” defendant.

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