Cconducting a direct examination of a wrongful death plaintiff in a personal injury case is a crucial part of presenting your case. Here are some general tips and advice for a successful direct examination, based on the information available:
- Prepare Thoroughly
- Know your case inside and out. Familiarize yourself with all the evidence, documents, and witness statements related to the wrongful death claim.
- Outline your questions and the key points you want to convey during the examination.
- Establish a Connection
- Begin with a warm and empathetic tone to establish rapport with the plaintiff and make them feel comfortable on the stand.
- Use open-ended questions to encourage the plaintiff to share their story in their own words for testimony where there really is no wrong answer.
- Narrative Approach
- Allow the plaintiff to tell their story in chronological order. Start with who the deceased was, the events leading up to the incident, and the aftermath.
- This narrative approach helps the jury or judge connect emotionally with the plaintiff and understand the impact of the loss.
- Highlight the Relationship
- Emphasize the relationship between the deceased and the plaintiff. Describe the nature of the bond, the activities they enjoyed together, and the impact of the loss on the plaintiff’s life.
- Elicit Emotional Testimony
- Use carefully crafted questions to elicit emotional responses. For example, you can ask about the plaintiff’s feelings, memories, or moments that make them particularly sad or poignant.
- Be empathetic and supportive when the plaintiff becomes emotional.
- Use Specifics
- Ask for specific details, as we did below, such as the deceased’s hobbies, interests, and future plans, to paint a vivid picture of their life and the potential it holds.
- Losses and Damages
- Clearly outline the financial, emotional, and practical losses the plaintiff has suffered as a result of the wrongful death. This could include medical expenses, funeral costs, lost income, and emotional distress. If there is a survival action, you need to flush out the decedent’s pain and suffering.
- Documentary Evidence
- Introduce relevant documents and records during the direct examination, such as medical bills, expert reports, or photographs, to support the plaintiff’s testimony.
- Maintain Control
- Keep the examination focused and avoid going off on tangents. People who are talking about the hardest day of their life are wildly prone to tangents. Be prepared to redirect the plaintiff if they veer away from the main points.
- Reinforce Liability
- If relevant, use the plaintiff’s testimony to build a case for liability or, as in the case below, to underscore it. Ensure that key elements of negligence or fault are highlighted during the examination if liability is at issue.
- Practice and Rehearse
- Conduct mock examinations with your client to help them become more comfortable on the stand. Don’t worry about it sounding rehearsed. It is more important that you get it right. Juries expect – within reason – witnesses to be prepared to testify.
- Review your questions and approach with your clients to ensure they understand the strategy.
- Listen Actively
- Pay close attention to the plaintiff’s responses. Their answers might lead to follow-up questions that strengthen your case.
- Don’t be a robot. If the witness says something unexpected it their pain and suffering testimony, respond to that.
- Be Concise
- Avoid long-winded or leading questions. Keep your questions clear and concise to elicit specific responses. This testimony is more impactful if it is short. You lose juries by dragging it out.
- Stay Professional
- Maintain professionalism at all times, both in your demeanor and in the questions you ask.
- Adapt as Needed
- Be flexible and adapt to unexpected developments during the examination, such as objections from opposing counsel.
Remember that the goal of a direct examination is to present a compelling and sympathetic case to the judge or jury. By following these guidelines, you can effectively convey the plaintiff’s perspective and build a strong case for a wrongful death claim.
Example Direct Examination of Wrongful Death Plaintiff
Victim’s Attorney: Your Honor, I’d like to call Ms. Sarah Johnson to the stand.
Judge: Please proceed.
Victim’s Attorney: Good morning, Ms. Johnson. Could you please state your full name for the record?
Sarah Johnson: Good morning. My name is Sarah Johnson.
Victim’s Attorney: Thank you, Ms. Johnson. I understand that you are here today as a witness to the accident that resulted in the wrongful death of Mr. Daniel Walker. Is that correct?
Sarah Johnson: Yes, that’s correct.
Victim’s Attorney: Ms. Johnson, I want to express my condolences for your loss, and I appreciate your willingness to share your account of the accident with the court. Can you tell us about the person we’ve lost in this case, Mr. Daniel Walker?
Sarah Johnson: Certainly. Daniel Walker was my husband, and he was an incredible person. He had a heart of gold and was always there for our family. He was an avid outdoorsman, loved hiking, and was passionate about environmental conservation.
Victim’s Attorney: Thank you for sharing that, Ms. Johnson. Now, could you please describe the events leading up to Mr. Walker’s passing?
Sarah Johnson: On the evening of June 12th, 2022, I was driving home with Daniel when a speeding truck ran a red light and collided with our car at the intersection of Elm Street and Maple Avenue. The accident was catastrophic, and unfortunately, Daniel did not survive.
Victim’s Attorney: I understand how difficult this must be for you, and I appreciate you providing details of the accident. Can you describe the accident itself and what you observed?
Sarah Johnson: Certainly. As we approached the intersection, our light turned green, and we proceeded through the intersection at a normal speed. Suddenly, a large truck ran the red light at a high rate of speed and slammed into the driver’s side of our car. The impact was so severe that our car was pushed several yards down the road, and Daniel was unconscious.
Victim’s Attorney: Ms. Johnson, I know this is extremely challenging to discuss, but your account is crucial for the court’s understanding of the accident. After the collision, what happened next?
Sarah Johnson: Bystanders rushed to the scene and called 911. Emergency services arrived quickly and attempted to rescue Daniel, but his injuries were too severe, and he passed away at the scene.
Victim’s Attorney: Can you tell us, Ms. Johnson, about some of the things that you and your husband, Mr. Walker, enjoyed doing together before this tragic incident?
Sarah Johnson: Certainly. Daniel and I shared a love for hiking and spending quality time outdoors. We often took our children on nature hikes during the weekends. Daniel was a patient and dedicated teacher to our kids, and he would identify different plants, and animals, and tell them stories about the natural world. It’s heartbreaking to think that they won’t have those moments anymore.
Victim’s Attorney: Thank you for sharing that. In your opinion, how has Mr. Walker’s passing affected your family and you personally?
Sarah Johnson: It has been an overwhelming loss. Our children have been struggling academically and emotionally without their father’s guidance. I’ve had to take on multiple jobs to make ends meet, and it’s been a constant juggling act. Every day is a reminder of the void that Daniel’s absence has left in our lives. I often find myself thinking about the dreams we had for our future, and it’s difficult to accept that those dreams will never come true.
Victim’s Attorney: Finally, Ms. Johnson, what is the outcome you seek in this case?
Sarah Johnson: What we want is justice for Daniel. We want the individual responsible for this tragedy to be held accountable, and we hope to secure the financial support needed to help our family recover from this devastating loss. It’s not just about seeking justice; it’s about ensuring that Daniel’s memory lives on and that our children have the opportunities they deserve.
Victim’s Attorney: Thank you, Ms. Johnson, for your testimony. Your Honor, I have no further questions for this witness at this time.