Attorney Uses Storytelling to Win for Client
“I am going to tell you a story. It is the story of what the evidence will show in this case.”
With those words, attorney John P. Burns began his opening statement to the jury in his client’s rear end car accident case.
The story begins with an ordinary man, living an ordinary life. A life which is turned upside down by the dangerous driving of the defendant. A defendant who caused injuries to the man’s neck, back, hand and fingers.
It is the story of a defendant who sent the man on a two year journey filled with M.D. visits, physical therapy and finally, hand surgery. All through this journey the man’s goal was just to try to get back his good health.
Halfway through this journey the man found out that the representatives of the driver who hit him had decided to say that his hand and fingers had not been injured in the accident. This implied that he had injured his hand and fingers some other way and was wrongfully trying to make it part of the car accident case. In effect, he was being called a liar. So the man’s second goal became to prove that he was not a liar.
The client was rear ended in his car while waiting for a red light to change. The impact was severe, with major damage to both vehicles. The driver who crashed into the rear of the client’s car caused the client injuries to his neck, back, left arm, left elbow, left hand and left middle and ring fingers.
Things happened so fast in the accident that the client could not remember if his left hand and fingers struck the dashboard of his BMW during the collision. He did know that the dashboard on his BMW is very close to the steering wheel and that his fingers started hurting shortly after the accident.
The client saw a medical doctor four days after the accident. The M.D. recorded neck and back pain but did not write down the left arm, left hand and left finger pain. When the client saw a physical therapist, seven days after the collision, the therapist recorded neck pain, back pain, left arm pain and left elbow pain.
Approximately three weeks after the accident the client reported left ring finger pain to the physical therapist who wrote it in the records. At one month post-accident the client’s left hand started to swell and he went back to the M.D. The M.D. ordered X rays and it was found that the client’s left middle finger had a simple fracture in it.
By the time of this 30 day post-accident visit to the M.D. the client had also developed what is called a Trigger Finger condition in his left middle finger. Trigger Finger is a condition where the finger tightens up so that the tip of the finger touches the palm of the hand. To get the finger out of this condition the client had to physically grab his finger with his other hand and straighten out his left middle finger several times a day.
The client then switched to a new medical doctor who ordered MRI’s of the client’s neck, left forearm and hand. The MRI of the hand showed stress fractures in both the left middle finger and the left ring finger.
The client completed physical therapy for his neck and back. The new M.D. then sent the client to an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in hand injuries. After examining the client’s hand, this new orthopedic surgeon referred the client to an occupational therapy facility for hand therapy.
At that facility the client had to do hand exercises and also have his left middle finger bent painfully backwards to try to get rid of the Trigger Finger condition. When the client finished the hand therapy he was told by the therapist that the Trigger Finger could not be cured and that he would have to live with the condition.
The representatives of the driver who caused the accident then advised that they would not allow any money for the hand and finger injuries. They said that, since the first M.D. had not recorded any hand or finger complaints four days after the accident, the injuries to the hand and fingers did not occur in the accident.
As part of preparing for trial the man’s attorney, John P. Burns, referred the client to a different orthopedic surgeon for evaluation. This new orthopedic surgeon told the client that the Trigger Finger condition could be cured with a simple operation. The new orthopedic surgeon then performed the hand operation and the Trigger Finger condition was cured.
The defense attorney was going to argue at trial that the client’s hand and finger injuries were not caused by the accident.
The Ending of the Story
Attorney John Burns tried the case to a jury of twelve people. He called medical treating doctors and medical experts. Under cross examination by Mr. Burns, the defense testifying doctor admitted that he makes $500,000 per year testifying for defense law firm in addition to his regular salary as an orthopedic surgeon.
Mr. Burns asked the jury to award his client the amount of $26,500 in medical bills plus $200,000 for pain and suffering. The jury was out for approximately one hour. The jury came back with a verdict for the client of $26,500 in medical bills plus $173,500 in pain in suffering for a total verdict of $200,000.
When Mr. Burns used the power of story to explain the case to the jury it helped the jurors see the injustice of what the defendant’s representatives were trying to do. In the end there were two heroes in the story. One hero was the client, for fighting so hard to overcome the obstacles put in his way by the defendant. The other hero was the jury, for having the courage to see injustice and do something about it.