The Trial: Linda and Steven Hatfield v. Ford Motor Co.
The Attorney: James Butler
A strong opening statement not only convincingly lays out your claims, it highlights weaknesses in your opponent's case. However, doing both without confusing your jury can be difficult, particularly in product liability cases where claims rely on complicated theories. James Butler, in Hatfield v. Ford Motor Co., masterfully contrasts his claims in the roof crush suit with the various theories he expects Ford to raise, bolstering his own case in the process.
Linda and Steven Hatfield sued Ford Motor Co. for injuries Linda sustained when the Mercury Grand Marquis in which she was traveling rolled over during a crash that crushed the car's roof. During opening statements, Butler's journalism background shows in his descriptive, clear narrative of the case and his conversational, folksy delivery. However, after cogently detailing his own case, Butler punches memorable holes in each of the defense's arguments. For example, Butler tells jurors that Ford will argue that Linda Hatfield was injured when her head struck the ground outside the car as it rolled over. He explains Ford attorneys will tell them they believe Hatfield had "rocks in her head," or, more specifically, foreign bodies lodged in her skull from when it struck the ground. He repeats the phrase "rocks in her head" several times while detailing Ford's theory, as if to highlight the absurdity of the defense. However, instead of "rocks," he says he will show that the objects were simply cysts in Linda's scalp. Moreover, he tells jurors that Linda Hatfield was not covered with dirt or other debris, much less rocks, when she was pulled from the vehicle. It's one of several ways Butler's opening colorfully undercuts the defense's theories while bolstering his own argument, which set the stage for a settlement before the verdict.