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Dissecting a Case

I recently finished working on one of the most difficult, interesting, and tragic cases I have ever consulted on. I think insights can be learned by dissecting cases, so with the attorneys’ permissions, I am honored to share the facts, consulting tips, and outcome of this case with you.

CASE FACTS:

A hotel downtown (Defendant) hires some security guards. One has a background of assault charges and impersonating a police officer. He says he has put that behind him and the hotel is confident in hiring him. His friend is also hired with no criminal record but he does get written up on the job for verbal abuse. The hotel claims to have trained the guards although no paperwork was presented to reflect the training.

Meanwhile, in another state, a different hotel evicts an intoxicated guest. The guest drives away and ends up on a wreck. The Defendant hotel hears of this event and holds mandatory meetings to discuss options other than eviction as well as safe eviction procedures to prevent something similar from happening at their hotel. One of the security guards in question is not present at the meeting.

Fast forward a couple of months. The Plaintiff, a 20 year old female books a room at the Defendant hotel. She and a few girlfriends are planning on staying the night after partying with a few other friends. They go out drinking and everyone comes back to the room around 2:30am. There are no noise complaints but one of the security guards hears noise coming from the room. He knocks and enters the room to tell them to quiet down. This starts a heated exchange between the Plaintiff, a male member of the group, and the security guard. The order of events was contested but at some point, there was an offer for the girls to stay if the men would leave. At some point after this, the entire group leaves and is escorted out of the hotel into the frigid winter air. A male member of the group asks if they can wait inside and call a cab. The security guard tells them “No, get the f**k out.” There is a cab stand outside the hotel. One girl says she can drive so 7 of them pile into Plaintiff’s PT Cruiser and head down the highway. Their BAC levels are high.  Only the female driving buckles her seat belt.

About 40 minutes later, the PT Cruiser comes up upon a distressed vehicle going 8mph on the highway when there is a full shoulder open for them to drive on. The female driving is distracted by Plaintiff and her ex-boyfriend in the back seat. She doesn’t see the distressed vehicle until it is too late. She collides with it. The Plaintiff is in a permanent vegetative state. We were asking for $20 million in economic damages and $40 million for permanent impairment/pain and suffering.

ARGUMENTS

The Defense argued liability and causation. They argued that they had no duties toward unregistered guests so their only duty was to the Plaintiff. They further argued that Plaintiff chose to leave when she didn’t want to stay with just the female friends so therefore there was no eviction and no eviction procedures were broken. In addition, there was a cab stand at the hotel and everyone testified that in the past, they have called cabs when drunk. Further, the Defendant hotel argued that they had no reason to know the group members were intoxicated as they were able to walk straight up and down escalators in heels, were not slurring their speech, and even emergency personnel who came to help at the wreck didn’t notice signs of intoxication. Finally, they argued that this was a case entirely about causation. Even if the hotel did something wrong in the eviction, it surely did not cause a group of people to get into a car and drive intoxicated, nor did it have anything to do with a distressed vehicle, the fact that the group did not wear seat belts, or the fact that the driver was distracted and not watching the road.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

I worked on this case when it was at its inception. We ran some focus groups at the time and found out that the eviction issue was huge and that many jurors felt there was no case if we failed to prove eviction. However, there were some jurors willing to give some small percentage of responsibility to the hotel – around 10%.

The case seemed to go south when the judge granted a Motion to Dismiss the case. The lead attorney, however, fought it up to the Supreme Court, who reversed the dismissal and sent the case back down for trial. This ordeal took a whole 10 years!

FOCUS GROUPS

I ran a second round of very detailed focus groups. We found that jurors were hung up on the eviction with most saying that they felt the group left voluntarily. Even the jurors who felt the hotel did something wrong then conceded that it did not cause the wreck. We ran another set of focus groups because jurors were giving varying arguments and I wanted to be sure I knew the path that the real jurors were likely to take. The second set of focus groups confirmed the main issues – the eviction, the causation problem, the drunk driving. The jurors were willing to give between 0-33% responsibility to the Defendant and only a few hundred thousand in damages.

CHANGING THE CASE

I sat down with the attorneys and we reworked the case. First, I told them we needed to make a timeline of the entire eviction process and highlight in red the several points at which the security guards or hotel said or did anything to indicate eviction. Further, we picked a different eviction point. Instead of relying on the hotel’s dishonesty in their destruction of documents and lying about training to try to get jurors to disbelieve their claim that the group was given a chance to stay, we instead embraced the fact that at one point in time the group was given an option of splitting up and having the girls stay. We did this in part because one of our witnesses was going to testify to this but mostly because the focus group jurors believed it regardless. We picked an eviction point AFTER that exchange to show eviction. We also argued that eviction was not necessarily a point in time but rather a process and showed all the times when the group was not welcomed at the hotel.

I suggested that jurors’ anger button was going to be set off by the security guards’ actions and the hotel’s “loss” of documentation as well as some other lies they told in documentation. We needed to make those issues front and center. We also needed to explain that the fact the guard entered the room is akin to someone entering your home. Even police cannot simply enter a home or hotel room. I suggested that they explain that policies, such as the eviction policies, are in place because someone got hurt before and out of that injury, a policy was created. By dismissing the policies, the hotel dismissed someone else’s tragedy. I also re-framed the lack of training and documentation to be a contract issue. The hotel, by hiring security and providing people a safe place to stay, implicitly has a contract to do so in a responsible manner. If the hotel skimps on hiring and training, they are implicitly assuming the risk that someone may get harmed and they are responsible for that harm. Same with eviction procedures.

Some focus group jurors blamed the group for getting confrontational with the guards and therefore forgave the guards for becoming belligerent and escalating the situation. I told the attorneys that we needed to explain that security guards are there only for when things go wrong. If guests are behaving, keeping noise levels down, and sleeping, there is no need for a security guard. The guards are there to calm a situation down, not to escalate it. Having guards skip protocol and escalate a situation is worse than having no guards at all.

To conquer the problem with causation, I suggested that we needed to explain it with different wording. To say the eviction “caused” the wreck was too big of a jump for the jurors. But many focus group jurors said that it “set it in motion” or that this was  a “chain of events.” Every mention of causation in opening and at trial was to me explained using these words.

JURY TRIAL RESULT

In addition to focus groups, I participated in the jury selection and editing of opening statement. The case was tried over a period of 2 weeks. The jury spent a full day deliberating and wanted to come back after a holiday weekend. They returned and spent another half day deliberating. They sent a question to the judge asking to see the hotel video surveillance again. This scared the Plaintiff into thinking the jurors were still stuck on causation so they settled. The jurors apparently had only 15 minutes to go and said that they were going to come back in favor of the plaintiff. They were going to put a high percentage of responsibility on the hotel. I do not know the amount they were going to award in damages but the attorneys have said that the client would have done very well for himself had he held out another 15 minutes.

I am honored to have worked on the case and transformed it into something everyone could be proud of.

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Pro Bono Consulting

Good news for all of you: I’d like to get some pro bono hours in. So, email me with a brief synopsis of the case and why you’d like help with it and I’ll see what I can do. My direct email is trialstrategist@gmail.com

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Memorial Day Consulting Savings

I’d like to offer to any attorney who is a Veteran or to any attorney who has a client who is either active duty or Veteran 25% off of any of my services, including but not limited to:

  • Focus Groups
  • Case Analysis
  • Editing Opening Statement
  • Voir Dire Prep
  • Witness Prep
  • Formulation of Rules of the Road
  • Etc…

To take advantage of this, please reference Memorial Day when contacting me. A contract for work to be done must be signed no later than June 15th (although work can be done at a later date).

Feel free to pass this along to others as well.

Thank you to all that serve!

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NEW: Contingency Fees for Trial Consulting

My passion has always been for the “little guy” but even within Plaintiffs work, there seems to be a disparity of resources depending on the size of the case. I would like to offer consulting services to every case, large and small. Toward that end, I am opening my consulting practice to take on some cases by contingency. This could be a large case where you would simply rather not risk any further outlay of money up front or a smaller case where the initial investment for consulting help is too steep. Every case is different and I will need to speak with you about your specific case and financial needs to work out the details. If you would like to talk with me about doing some consulting work on contingency, please contact me.

Trialstrategist@gmail.com

303-653-2233

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Juror Insight Focus Group DVDs – Video Previews and Sale Info

About 6 months ago, I posted that I would be running six different focus groups on issues most central to trial lawyers. The focus groups are finished and ready for sale. Below you will find details about the focus group content. This is a way to get focus group feedback extremely inexpensively.

I recruited two groups of jurors from Denver and the surrounding areas and tested three topics with each group. In addition, when you purchase a DVD, I will send you a list of some time stamped talking points where I give my commentary and feedback on what the jurors are saying. This gives you an opportunity to get consultant feedback on the focus group as you are watching it.

Here is a link to my YouTube account where you can view previews of each of the DVDs:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCExd3xfiDbImJ1Gh43g0jBw

Here is a synopsis of some of the topics covered in each of the DVDs.

PREMISES LIABILITY

Included in this disc are two panels of juror discussions regarding:

  • Who is responsible for keeping public premises safe
  • Expectations of store owners regarding wet floors from rain, snow, or spill
  • Responsibility of the injured party
  • Fixed versus temporary hazards
  • Safety sweep time schedules
  • Uneven concrete walkways
  • And more…

LOW SPEED CAR CRASHES

Included in this disc are juror discussions regarding:

  • Possible injuries from low speed crashes
  • Pre-existing conditions
  • Injuries compiling on one another from  previous crashes
  • Brain injury from low speed impacts
  • And more…

 PRODUCTS LIABILITY

Included in this disc are juror discussions regarding:

  • Responsibility of a company to make a product safe
  • Responsibility of the user of the product
  • New safety designs and duty to implement them in products
  • Warnings versus design safety
  • Minimum Federal safety standards
  • And more…

 INSURANCE BAD FAITH

Included in this disc are juror discussions regarding:

  • Expectations of the claims handling process
  • Insurance delay tactics
  • Independent Medical Examiners
  • Claims handlers ignoring treating doctor opinions
  • Claims handlers’ use of statistics to determine whether an insured is injured
  • Litigation syndrome
  • And more…

 MILD TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY

  • Video case study of actual MTBI client
  • Impact required to cause MTBI
  • Symptoms of MTBI
  • Concussion
  • MBTI vs. Depression
  • And more…

 MEDICAL MALPRACTICE

Included in this disc are juror discussions regarding:

  • Coordination among care providers
  • Expectations on accurate record keeping
  • Who is responsible for follow up
  • Good intentions of care providers who “made a mistake”
  • Differential diagnosis
  • And more…

 

ORDERING INFORMATION:

The DVDs range from 35 minutes to over an hour long. They are priced at $300 each or $1200 for all six.

Keep in mind that the contents of the DVDs are valid measures only for one group of Colorado mock jurors. Due to differences in juror demographics, if you are looking to apply the results of this discussion to a specific case, it is highly recommended that you do separate focus groups to test issues with jurors in your specific venue. The information contained in the DVDs is meant to be SOME information about how jurors perceive these issues.

If you would like to order, please contact me directly at trialstrategist@gmail.com and specify what you would like to order. I will send you a bill and once payment is received, I will ship out your order.

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Revised Focus Group Cost Share Project

A month or so ago I offered a chance to take part in a cost-share focus group set. I had a good number of people interested but very few contracts and deposits were received by the deadline. In following up with people as to why they did not send in payment, I received feedback that prompted a change in plans in order to try to meet everyone’s preferences, concerns, and wishes.  Instead of doing a cost-share with individual slots, I will be running focus groups on the following six (6) topics and recording the groups. I will then sell copies of the focus group DVDs to anyone interested either individually or as a set. Pricing will likely be:

 

$275 per focus group DVD

$1200 for the set of all six (6) focus group DVDs

 

Topics:

  1. Premises Liability
  2. Mild Traumatic Brain Injury
  3. Low Speed Impacts
  4. Expectations of Doctors and Care Providers (Communication, Diagnosis, Compared to Patient’s Responsibilities)
  5. Products Liability
  6. Insurance Companies & Bad Faith

 

I will be doing three topics at the end of August and three at the end of September. I will keep you all appraised as to when DVDs are ready for sale.

 

IF THERE ARE ANY QUESTION OR SUB-TOPICS YOU WANT INCLUDED IN THE FOCUS GROUPS, PLEASE EMAIL ME YOUR QUESTIONS OR TOPIC AREAS. If they are testable topics or questions, I am happy to include them in my scripts.

 

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

 

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Focus Group Cost Share Details

For those who were potentially interested in the focus group cost sharing, here are the finalized details. I want to stress that YOU DO NOT NEED TO DO ANY PREP WORK, NOR DO YOU NEED TO SHOW UP LIVE. The main benefit is in receiving the DVD footage of the focus groups as well as having the opportunity to request an individual slot to test something specific to your case for only $500. There is some confusion with people thinking they don’t have time on their schedules but otherwise would be interested. This should take no time on your schedule. You may attend one (or more if there is room) focus groups live but that is certainly not required. Here are the details:

 

1.      Setup: There will be a total of 8 topics tested. Two will be tested at a time with the same jury. This means that each month, on a Saturday, there will be a group of 6-8 jurors present. Jessica Brylo will lead hour-long discussions about 2 of the 8 topics. The next month, with a different jury, another two topics will be tested and so forth until all 8 topics have been tested.

2.    Cost:  $1695 for all 8 topics (that’s $211 per hour-long focus group! Including costs!!!). Individual sessions are extra (see below) but still GREATLY discounted from what it would cost you on your own.

3.    Dates, times, & topics tested: 4th Saturday of each month. The focus groups will usually run from 9am-11am. However, if there is an individual session that needs to be run before the topics (this will depend on what is being tested) then the topic testing may be moved to 10 or 11am. We will let you know of this change a few weeks before the session. YOU ARE NOT REQUIRED TO SHOW UP. YOU ARE BUYING DVD COPIES OF THESE FOCUS GROUPS. You will be guaranteed a right to attend one focus group live IF YOU WISH and maybe more if we have room.

     a.    July 26: Mild Traumatic Brain Injuries & Products Liability (the need to go above mandated standards, responsibility of owner vs manufacturer, etc)

     b.    August 23: Expectations of Doctors/Care Providers & Insurance Bad Faith

     c.    Oct 25: Premises Liability & [Tentatively] Feelings About Attorneys/Legal System

     d.    Sept 27: Low Impact Car Crashes & [Tentatively] Hodgepodge of Smaller Issues (i.e. pre-existing injuries, aggravation of injuries, suing the well-intentioned good people, etc)

4.    Rights to view live: We cannot fit everyone in the viewing room so you are guaranteed a right to come watch at least one focus group. If there is room, we will send an email to alert you ahead of time and if you would like to attend another focus group live, you may ask to come. Spots will fill on a first-come, first-serve basis. We will fit as many in the room as we can squeeze.

5.    DVDs: You will receive DVD copies of all focus groups. If you attend live, you may have the DVD before leaving. If you do not attend live, a copy will be mailed to you.

6.    Individual slots: There will be a maximum of 8 individual one hour slots up for grabs. This means that we will recruit jurors to stay for an extra 1-2 hours after the topic testing in order to test your case issues. This is NOT enough time to do a full focus group on a full case. It is helpful, however, if you are early in your case and want guidance for discovery on some issues, testing exhibits, doing some voir dire practice, etc. For more information on this, contact Jessica Brylo directly. Slots will cost an extra $500/hour to cover extra juror pay, video fees, and consulting time, plus an extra $275/hour for any time Jessica Brylo spends coordinating ahead of time with you to create the focus group script. We need to know 3 weeks ahead of time if you want to reserve an individual slot in order to recruit the jurors. The $500 payment will be due 3 weeks ahead as well. And remember, the spaces are first-come, first-serve so they may fill quickly.  Everyone is not guaranteed an individual slot. 

 

if you are interested, please contact me ASAP. Trialstrategist@gmail.com

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