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"Brief Opening Statements with a Purpose"

MTLA Seminar


February 1970

Guest Speaker: Richard L. Tousignant


Seminar Notes

In order to try a case in a day and a half you need to start with a brief opening statement. In order to do so focus on the information that is important to winning your case. In most soft tissue cases the opening statement should not take more than 15 minutes. 

The following is an outline of what I believe is needed in a short opening statement. I have also provided you with some examples as to how to present that information in the most favorable light to the jury.

I.        Introduction.

 What the evidence will show?

 What you intend to prove?

Example:     

The evidence presented over the next day and a half will prove three things.

1. That the defendant was negligent in causing a car accident on   June 1, 2004.

2. That as a direct result of that negligence Mary Johnson injured her neck and back. 

3. That even though Mrs. Johnson has had a great deal of care she continues to have pain and disability from these injuries and her doctors will tell you her injuries are permanent.

II.       Introduce yourself to the jury.

Do this even though the judge has already done so. The purpose of this introduction is to take yourself out of the role of lawyer or attorney. 

Example:     

My name is Richard Tousignant and I am here as the spokesperson for Mrs. Johnson.

III.      Introduce your client.

In this section you want to make sure that the jury gets to know your client through your own words. Tell the jury about your   client’s ages, where she grew up, her educational background, her occupation, her children, her activities and anything else you want  the jury to know about her. The purpose of this portion of your   opening is to get the jury to relate to your client. 

Example:     

Before I get into the actual evidence, let me tell you a little about Mrs. Johnson. She is 44 years of age and has lived in Minneapolis all of her life. She attended Central High School in south Minneapolis and then attended the University of Minnesota where she achieved a four-year degree in marketing.

In 1975 she met her husband, John, fell in love and got married. They have two children, Paul who is 17 and Jeanette who is 15.

Mrs. Johnson will tell you that prior to this accident she was very active with her family and friends. She enjoyed volleyball, softball, camping, hiking, canoeing, and biking. Mrs. Johnson you will hear is also an avid gardener.                           

I am sure you will enjoy hearing from Mrs. Johnson and you will find her to be an honest and trustworthy person.

IV.     Accident Facts. 

a.  During this section you want to describe the accident in as vivid detail as possible. Create a picture for the jury by describing the weather conditions, the type of roadway, the vehicles the parties were driving or occupying, and the basic terrain of the  area. 

b.  Describe the accident. Tell the story of the accident from your client’s perspective, the position of her body in the vehicle, the last thing she saw before impact, her body movement in the car, whether she struck anything inside the car, any visible signs of injury, the distance her car was pushed from impact, and property damage. You will also want to talk about what the evidence will show about the defendant’s conduct when liability has not been admitted.

V.      Injuries, Care and Treatment

Describe the injuries from your client’s point of view. Do not use  medical terminology in this portion of your opening. Instead,  speak from the heart as your client has described her injuries to    you. It is important to tell the jury when she first noticed these  injuries and when she first sought medical care. 

This is usually a good time to discuss any prior injuries and/or chiropractic care to the same areas of the body. If there are no  priors this is a good place to explain that the evidence will show she had no pre-existing conditions to that particular area to the  body. 

 Tell the jury about the doctors your client has seen. Do so in    chronological order. Be sure to move from one doctor to the next with statements regarding referrals made by the doctor. This gives   a good transition to the next doctor. 

Example:     

When Dr. Smith found that his care and treatment wasn’t serving to cure Mrs. Johnson, he referred her to Dr. John. You will hear that Dr. Smith continued to treat Mrs. Johnson but did so partially under Dr. John’s direction and you will also hear that Mrs. Johnson followed the recommendations by both Dr. Smith and Dr. John. 


Complete your opening with regard to the doctors by telling the  jury what testimony they will hear from the doctors.   

 Example:     

You will hear testimony from Dr. Smith. That testimony will come to you by way of videotape deposition. The purpose of videotaping Dr. Smith is for the convenience of the court and you, the members of the jury. Dr. Smith will tell you that even though Mrs. Johnson has received a great deal of care and treatment, they have been unable to cure her of the pain, and disability she has suffered as a result of this motor vehicle accident. Dr. Smith will tell you that Mrs. Johnson’s injuries are permanent. In other words, these are injuries from which she will never recover. Dr. Smith will also tell you that Mrs. Johnson will require care into the future. That care will be in the form of medication, physical therapy, and/or chiropractic care.

VI.              Adverse Medical Examination

After you complete your discussion of what your doctors will testify to, then it is time to tell the jury about the adverse examination. In doing so you should attack the adverse examiner in your opening statement. The adverse doctor is hired by the defense attorney, paid by the defense attorney and his/her sole purpose in being involved in this case is to testify against the plaintiff. 

Look to the location of the adverse exam as compared to the plaintiff’s home address. Often times defense attorneys will shop around looking for a doctor that will help them out. When the distance between the plaintiff’s home and the adverse examiner is too great, bring that up to the jury. “Why did they pick this particular doctor?” 

In our minds the adverse examiner’s opinions usually lack credibility and foundation. Tell the jury that the adverse examiner’s testimony lacks credibility and foundation and it is bias in favor of his employer, the defense attorney. 

VII.           Medical Specials

Be sure to tell the jury about the dollar amount of care that your client has incurred as a result of this motor vehicle accident. By doing so the jury won’t be surprised in closings as to what amount you will be asking for.

VIII.         Tell the jury what you want them to do.

Finish your closing by telling the jury what you will be asking of them. 

Example:    

Well ladies and gentlemen, that is what this case is all about. A happy, healthy, 44 year old woman whose life has totally changed as a direct result of the negligence of the defendant. I look forward to presenting that evidence to you.

At the end of evidence I will come back up here and find that you find in favor of Mrs. Johnson and award fair damages for the pain and disability she has suffered at the hands of the defendant.

On a typical soft tissue case my opening statement is less than 15 minutes. There is no reason for you to go any longer than that. You can give a powerful and compelling opening statement in a very short period of time if you are organized and discuss only what is important to winning your case.

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