It has been said “a trial is storytelling with a purpose” and I agree. Parts of a brain injury trial inescapably involve the inherent complexity of brain structure, injury, and treatment, but simultaneously running throughout is the underlying narrative of a life challenged by a powerful injury. That storied current should flow with all testimony and evidence, revealing a past and now different world for the injured and an emerging portrait of courage and triumph. The trial cannot be the sounds of a series of witnesses singing independently. It should be a chorus of component parts singing in harmony, complementing, and enhancing a purposed storyline. The entire trial is a story. Successfully telling this true story requires careful forethought, planning, and an understanding of what stories mean to us all.
– Charlie Waters
Stories create community. Stories enable us to see through the eyes of another and open us to the claims of others. Stories are memory aids, instruction manuals, and moral compasses. Stories about the great human endeavor bind us all. Stories make reality more relevant to an audience. Stories can create a conflict for an audience that can inspire them to use the resolution in their own lives. A good story is one we find interesting, important, or educational. A great story is often all these. Good stories, like good books, breathe on their own as they reveal themselves one chapter at a time.
Good stories are not always happy stories, but all good stories make us feel and think. Sometimes a story can be difficult to hear because it’s emotional and tragic. There’s a life story to be told with every brain injury case, and they are always challenging. The trial of your brain injury is your life story, and likely the most important story of your life. A brain injury trial lawyer tells your story through his words, your words, and the words of others…and it must be told right.
Telling your story starts with developing a case theme. A case theme should be presented early and followed throughout the trial. Case themes vary from case to case, as you would expect, but have common characteristics. They should be simple, unique, easily understood, and should embrace the central case facts. Think of the theme as a path of truth leading to a finding of liability and appropriate damages. Put another way, the theme is the storyline of the case and its moral justification. It’s a single phrase or two (no more than 3) that lends credibility, through the human experience, to your version of the facts. The theme of your case should be a memorable phrase(s) that explains what happened, why it happened, and the results of what happened.
Here’s an example of a case theme that would have been presented at the beginning of trial in a premise liability case resulting from falling debris at a construction site during the renovation of a building . The case settled before trial.
It is our contention the tragic falling debris at this construction site on October 15, 2017, was themed around speed, greed, and need.
- It was speed because the general contractor was in a hurry to finish the project on time, and therefore didn’t take the time to exercise the simple care and prudence that a general contractor needs to exercise to keep a job site safe.
- It was greed because by rushing to finish the job the general contractor would save money on labor costs and that meant more money in his pocket.
- It was need in the sense that for the rest of his life James will need help to cope with day to day tasks in order to make ends meet and to pay for his costly future medical treatments.
This theme would have been stated at the very beginning during the questioning of potential jurors (voir dire), again in the opening statement to the jury, and at the end of the trial in final summation.
As the storyline develops through trial, the richness of your story begins to take on form and depth. It’s enhanced by the testimony of those who have made the journey with you. They have poignant and powerful things to say. They have their own stories about you to share, which then become part of your unfolding story for the jury. And then you speak. No one knows your story better, but I have found that others who know and love you often make the better witnesses. They possess a different lens and bring different, and sometimes more revealing, perspectives.
There’s much to the telling of your story. It begins with knowing you. That’s a process that takes time and open willingness. Willingness by you to share and dedication by your lawyer to take whatever time is needed to listen to you and understand where you are. Everything about the preparation and presentation of your case flows from there.