litigation

Argument & Credibility

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Reputation and credibility are everything. I no longer tweet but one thing I enjoyed was that it forced me to express my thoughts in 140 characters or less. Forcing oneself to truncate his or her words and focus only on those necessary is an invaluable practice, especially for attorneys. According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, a human’s attention span is now 8.25 seconds; thats less than a goldfish. Subsequently, the quicker that you deliver your argument the higher the probability that it will resonate.

Continuing that thought – while hoping I still have your attention – how you utilize one’s time presenting arguments will affect your credibility and reputation. Do not tatter your credibility with arguments that are illogical or implausible.

As a civil defense attorney, occasionally we are dealt a bad hand. A set of circumstances with no means of lending a clear path for your client’s release. On the day of reckoning, whether arbitration, ADR, or trial, everyone knows your plight. In spite of those circumstances, we must represent our client and their best interests vigorously. In unique circumstances I believe this is best achieved by conceding some areas, only to win big in others. To do so, we must maintain our credibility, as well as value the trier’s attention span, by presenting only the most logical and suitable arguments. Pointing out every possible area of contention is not effective nor necessary. Select your best arguments, the ones that you believe will stick.

So now you are thinking, “OK, sounds good, but where is the proof.” For some time I wondered the same. However, I recently came across an article that detailed this very approach. The defense was faced with a daunting task and a good liabity argument was essentially non-existent. Injuries appreared to be related, but the parties did not agree on the extent of such injuries. The defense obtained solid evidence pertaining to damages going at the heart of the plaintiff’s credibility. However, it was going to be critical for the defense not to diminish their credibility arguing liability where their client was clearly at fault. Read here to see the results, Admitted Liability/Reduced Damages.

In short, your credibility is everything. When placed in a tough position with little to work with, face those limitations head on. Admit your weak areas. This will go far in building your credibility and using it to persuade the trier on your more favorable arguments. Our arbitration panels, juries, and judges are human-beings. Arguing liability where the facts are clear that your client is at fault will undoubtedly affect your credibility. In fact, it may lead the trier to feel that you are unreasonable or out of touch with reality; and as a result could lead them to not value your other arguments. Instead, consider conceding liability, accepting responsibility on behalf of your client, and move on to argue damages pointing out key areas where you disagree with the extent of the injuries. Not only is this where you will score points, but where the trier of fact will value your argument, testimony, and candor.

Surveillance Videos: When to Hold and When to Fold?

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BC-Injury-Law-Video-SurveillancePennsylvania law is well settled on the relevancy of surveillance videos and them being subject to discovery. What is not so clear is when the surveillance must be disclosed or produced. It is important to note that both the disclosing and producing of the surveillance are two separate events. The defense does not have to produce surveillance videos at the same time that they disclose their existence; thus, the question becomes when must the two events take place?

In addressing this matter, Pennsylvania Court’s strive to strike a balance. As stated in the PA Surveillance Compendium, “Pennsylvania Courts have recognized the competing interests at play when it comes to the issue of video surveillance—for Plaintiffs, it is securing a trial free from surprise, and for Defendants, it is the potential to expose fraud or exaggerated claims of injury.”

“Under the law today, you do not need to disclose the existence of surveillance footage until (1) the Plaintiff requests video surveillance in discovery, and (2) the deposition of the surveilled individual is taken. Morganti v. Ace Tire & Parts, Inc., 70 Pa. D. & C. 4th 1 (Common Pleas 2004) (Wettick, J.). You may wait until after Plaintiff has been deposed to disclose the existence of the surveillance video to Plaintiff. This is true even if Plaintiff propounds discovery upon Defendant months before his or her deposition is taken and specifically requests Defendant to identify and produce any and all surveillance videos of Plaintiff. This Rule preserves the impeachment value of the surveillance, while giving the Plaintiff time to test the integrity of the impeachment evidence.” Id.

In other words, prior to the plaintiff’s deposition, the defense may hold the surveillance in an attempt to secure contradictory testimony. Afterwards, the defense must produce the surveillance in a timely matter.

Other great related sources of information:

– Must surveillance videos be disclosed prior to trial if only used for impeachment purposes

Pennsylvania Surveillance Compendium of Law

Civ Pro 101: “No Trial By Ambush”

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paper glasses

It’s 10:00pm the night before my first binding ADR. I am extremely nervous and anxious, but everything is coming together. My major points are outlined in detail, and with a little luck a defense verdict is attenable. While my client has exposure, there is a high-low agreement in place so our damage is capped. Who wants to lose small when they can win big? I open our electronic filing system to print a few pictures to show the minor damage to plaintiff’s vehicle as a result of the accident. And then I see, “Plaintiff’s Medical Records.” But wait, this is new. I open the document and begin to browse. Right away, I spot records from 2012, but we’ve had an ADR agreement in place since 2010, what are these new records? I continue to peruse. I see a three-day hospital stay in 2012, and then the words that forever changed my night, “lumbar laminectomy surgery in 2014.” My mouth dropped. The entire case has changed.

We have an Independent Medical Examination (IME) from 2009. There was an initial delay in agreeing on the arbitrator, followed by plaintiff counsel’s numerous continuance requests, but no mention of any additional treatment or surgery. This was Civ Pro Ambush 101, and I was in the middle of a full onslaught attack.

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ABA Says It Is Okay To Internet Stalk Jurors

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Facebook Stalking

Lawyers who want to pick through troves of public information that jurors or potential jurors put on the Internet about themselves may do so, but they may not communicate directly with the jurors, such as asking to “friend” them on Facebook, according to a formal ethics opinion issued by the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professionalism.

Formal opinions are based on the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which have been adopted by all states except California. The rules are not binding but serve as models that can be adopted or modified. Formal Opinion 466 addresses three situations concerning lawyer review of the Internet footprints of jurors or potential jurors.

• Looking at information available to everyone on a juror’s social media accounts or website when the juror doesn’t know it’s being done. The opinion says the “mere act of observing” is not improper ex parte conduct, much as driving down a juror’s street to get a sense of his or her environs isn’t.

• Asking a juror for access to the his or her social media. The opinion says that is improper, much like stopping the car to ask the juror’s permission to look inside the juror’s house for a better view.

• When a juror finds out, through a notification feature of the social media platform or website, that the lawyer reviewed publicly available information. The formal opinion says the social media provider, not the lawyer, is communicating with the juror, the same as if a neighbor saw the lawyer’s car pass by and told the juror.

See, Lawyers can look up jurors on social media but can’t connect with them and FYI – The ABA Says It Is Okay To Facestalk Jurors

 

Plaintiff’s Lawyer Barred from Defense’s Medical Exam

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A plaintiff’s attorney is not allowed to be present during neuropsychological testing of his or her client, a Lebanon County Court of Common Pleas judge has ruled.

Addressing an issue that has apparently gone largely untouched by appellate court review, Judge Bradford H. Charles based his decision mostly on the defendant’s doctor’s ethical objections and the fact that the plaintiff’s attorney had not been present when the plaintiff’s doctor examined the plaintiff.

Although the plaintiff had argued that the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure give plaintiffs the right to have counsel present during independent medical examinations, Charles looked to a 2013 Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas decision, and determined that the attorney could not be present for the standardized testing portion of the exam.

“Permitting a third-party observer to be present during [the defendant’s doctor]’s examination would create an injustice that we do not believe was contemplated by a global evaluation of Pennsylvania’s discovery rules,” Charles said.

See: The Legal Intelligencer’s, Plaintiff’s Lawyer Barred From Defense’s Medical Exam

Bully Times — Be Prepared

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Tough

One day, one morning, one afternoon, it will happen — the inevitable encounter with the bullying lawyer. As I continue to acclimate myself with the practice of law in a new environment, with a new town comes new rules. For that reason, amongst many, I immediately identified with the following article. The writer outlines the importance of young attorneys standing ready to confront the older more experienced attorney that may will bully you. The author details how the foe may present him or herself in a number of disguises. Bullies do not always appear as the big bad wolf, they may very well be the sly cunning fox. Either way, it’s important that you stand your ground. Of course, we all make mistakes and can learn a great deal from the more seasoned attorneys; however, never allow that to compromise your ability or confidence to perform well. More experience is simply more “practical contact with and observation of facts or events.” Not superiority.

It Was Just a Routine Motion

One of the first matters I worked on involved drafting a relatively routine bankruptcy motion to reject a contract for a corporate debtor. After filing and serving the motion, I received a call from counsel to the counterparty to the contract. He immediately lit into me, accusing me of filing a frivolous motion, threatening sanctions and questioning my qualifications — that’s the G-rated version.

Whoa. I was shaken up. This guy was pretty seasoned, at least in terms of years of experience. At the end of the conversation I was convinced I had really messed up, and that my legal career was pretty much over.

Read more: You Will Be Bullied — Be Prepared

PA Supreme Court shifts the world of products liability

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The PA Supreme Court recently shifted the world of products liability with its opinion in Tincher v. Omega Flex, Inc. While scholars and attorneys continue to dissect the 137 page opinion,  “what can be said immediately about this landmark decision is this: (1) the Court has not adopted the Third Restatement (although the Third Restatement is extensively discussed); (2) Azzarello v. Black Brothers Company (Pa 1978), which created Pennsylvania’s idiosyncratic version of Section 402A of the Second Restatement, has been overruled. BUT (3) there are many stated variables and contingencies that will have to be carefully evaluated and clearly will have significant consequences in pending and yet to be filed cases in Pennsylvania state and federal courts.” Philadelphia Association of Defense Counsel member Bill Ricci.

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