TRIAL TALK 101: Helping Personal Injury Lawyers do a Better Job - WRECKS are not "Accidents"

Words have significant power in injury cases

“Words are just words” is a quote attributable to Luther Campbell, infamous 2 Live Crew Rapper.    When it comes to handling your Tennessee Personal Injury Case, I could not disagree more. 
 
The words you choose are important.   Defense lawyers always want to refer to car wrecks, no matter how egregious, as simple “accidents.”  It’s as if you were walking down the street and just were unlucky enough to get hit in the head and killed by an asteroid.  “Accident” connotes being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  No one is really at fault in an accident, and, if they are, it is not that big of a deal.  
 
The problem with this language is that it absolves the wrongdoer of full responsibility, or at least mitigates it.  Accidents happen.   Stuff happens.  Running a red light, or not watching where you are going, or getting drunk or high and choosing to get behind the wheel does not “just happen.”  It involves a conscious choice.   A person can choose to follow the law and keep their eyes on the road, or not.  A person can choose to drink, or to not drink.  If a person is impaired, how many options do they have to NOT get behind of the wheel and potentially kill someone?   A person can choose to text or not to text when they drive.  So, after making those choices which they know is dangerous, why is it that it is termed an “accident.”  Perhaps more accurately, it is an “accident waiting to happen.”  That is the only proper use of the term. 
 
I help a lot of lawyers.  Other lawyers bring me their cases after they have reached a dead end with the insurance companies and ask me to resolve them.  This month, 2 defense lawyers have asked me to lunch to share my trial tactics with them (which I politely refused).   I am honored by their requests, and motivated to always be increasing my game and elevating my performance.   When a lawyer calls me asking for my help in a case, one of the biggest mistakes I see younger lawyers make is the “name game.”  The defense lawyer keeps calling the wreck an accident, and before long, the plaintiff’s own lawyer is calling it that too.  You have to stop doing this.   At the very least, be conscious of the fact you are doing it. 
 
In a recent focus group I held preparing for a case, I asked the focus group this question… “What is the difference between an accident and a crash?”  Their response?  “An accident is something like, happens in a parking lot, a minor fender bender, nobody gets hurt…”   “A crash is where someone is really hurt, and if they are not killed, lucky to be alive.” 
 
There are several other trigger words that are important to be on the lookout for from the defense.  This is the most obvious one.  These subtle words can have a profound impact on the way jurors evaluate your case.   Don’t trip yourself up using the defense’s lingo.  You cannot come out of the gate with anything less than full speed.  The best offense is a completely, unstoppable offense. I believe that in order to win your case at trial, you must come out of the gate in voir dire and opening and punch the defense in the mouth, and never let up.  If you start out behind, you rarely will ever catch up.  Part of this offense is choosing the right words, framing the right issues, and admitting all of the warts in your case right up front.  Most of all, you must be nakedly, brutally honest with the jury.  If you do, they will love you for it, and they will want to help your worthy client. 
 
So, I disagree with you Luther.  Words matter. 

John Griffith
Nashville Personal Injury Trial Attorney
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