It's critical for a trial's opening statement to clearly explain the circumstances of an accident at the heart of a lawsuit. However, unlike car collisions or slip-and-falls, involving activities jurors can easily picture, detailing an accident at an event unfamiliar to the average juror is much more difficult. That was the situation Searcy Denney's Gregory Barnhart faced in Gratton v. DiPetrillo, a $2 million-plus wrongful death suit by Patricia Gratton against organizers of a powerboat race in which Gratton's husband, champion powerboat racer Joey Gratton, drowned.
Patricia Gratton contended that race organizers negligently employed inexperienced safety divers who were unable to rescue her husband when his boat flipped during the event. However, the average person likely doesn't understand the unique dangers or attendant safety protocols of powerboat racing. In his opening statement, Barnhart, representing Patricia Gratton, walked jurors through a powerboat accident that would cause a boat like Gratton's to flip upside down. Using a powerboat model and photos of the accident to reinforce his narrative, Barnhart detailed for jurors both the safety equipment involved and the time-critical nature of such an accident. "Every minute that goes by, every second that goes by, (the boat) is slowly sinking," Barnhart explained, as he turned the model of the flipped boat vertically to demonstrate how it would sink. "You know what they call it? A tombstone. It looks like a tombstone, but it also can be a tombstone if you don't get the racers out."
Barnhart's opening helped explain powerboats and their potentially fatal accidents in terms jurors could easily understand. It's an opening that helped pave the way for a mid-trial settlement for his client.
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