Why It’s Important to Explore Not Just Who Was Hurt, but Who Could Have Been Hurt in a Car Accident
Part of the advantage that comes with being a “seasoned” attorney—my nice way of saying older and experienced—is that I have been blessed with the opportunity to teach younger lawyers how to take depositions and actually try their cases. In law school, there is a relentless focus on the “elements” of a cause of action that must be proved to “sustain” a verdict. In an automobile or motorcycle wreck, for example, we are taught that we must prove that the “negligence” of another party was the “proximate cause” of a “foreseeable” injury.
Much time is spent on the legal definition of these kinds of words. I remember thinking as a young lawyer, “Just how is a jury supposed to apply these ill-defined concepts to simple poor driving choices?”
I also remember “proving” the “elements” in case after case and losing. I would say to myself, “The jury just did not follow the law,” when I should have been saying, “I did not define the law in a way that showed the jury just how dangerous the defendant’s driving was at that point in time when they harmed my client.”
Through a lot of reading, trial work and learning from other lawyers, it hit me that we show the jury how utterly dangerous certain driving is by showing:
- The driving facts leading up to the crash, not just the crash itself
- Who could have been hurt by the driving
- How badly innocent people could have been hurt
When the jury can see and feel the danger that the defendant put your client and others in, finding a lack of ordinary care (negligence) or that this injury or some other similar in nature might occur (foreseeability) becomes easy. To help you sear these lessons in your mind, take a look at the following video captured by a good Samaritan and recently provided to my client after a brutal intersection wreck:
With this clip in mind, ask yourself what would be more effective:
- Telling the jury that the Defendant driver ran a stop light and hit your client; or….
- Telling the jury that after the light turned red for the Defendant, a school bus with a green light entered and cleared the intersection, then three other cars following the school bus entered the intersection in their respective lanes of traffic, and finally the Defendant driver accelerated through the red light at the intersection at a high rate of speed, T-boning XXXX’s sedan, narrowly missing the driver’s door, and destroying the back end of her vehicle
The answer, I hope, is clear. How someone did not die that morning is only due to an act of divine mercy. Fortunately, the Defendant driver did not go airborne into oncoming traffic, no one was walking in the marked crosswalk, and none of the other vehicles lawfully crossing the intersection were struck.
Use the video above as a reminder to really develop evidence addressing how many people could have been injured and how badly they could have been harmed, as well as to actively seek and capture evidence about the wreck, like this video, even if liability seems clear to your law school mind. Unlearn what you have learned and think like the jury will be thinking.