During opening statements, the most effective demonstratives work seamlessly with the case’s narrative to paint a vivid picture that sways a jury in the trial’s first few moments. During his compelling 20-minute opening at trial over a bone-shattering hospital fall, Michael Goldberg artfully wove his demonstratives into his story, laying the cornerstone for a seven-figure win. Byrom v. Douglas Hospital, 13-SV-00346.
Carolyn Byrom suffered a severe leg break when she fell while attempting to stand from a hospital wheelchair at Georgia’s Douglas Hospital. Byrom, whose leg injury now renders her unable to walk, contends the hospital was negligent because it did not train employees on how to use the chair, which was built for riders to exit from the side after raising the chair arm.
During his opening statement on behalf of Byrom, Goldberg, of Fried Rogers Goldberg, detailed Byrom’s life before the accident and explained that she had walked into the hospital for a relatively routine pre-surgical consult on a diabetes-related finger infection. Because the EKG suite where Byom needed testing was far from the entrance, the nurse suggested Byrom use a wheelchair, Goldberg explained, as he rolled out the same type of bariatric wheelchair from which Byrom fell.
“Now Ms. Patterson [the non-defendant healthcare worker] gets this wheelchair. It’s the first time she’s ever seen this wheelchair, the first time she’s ever used this wheelchair before, never had any training on it,” Goldberg says with his arm around the chair’s back.
Goldberg quickly walks jurors through Byrom's trip to the EKG suite and the uneventful testing before the fateful return trip.
“Now Douglas Hospital has two entrances,” Goldberg says as he steps away from the chair and walks across to a large easel to hand sketch a rough layout of the hospital as he speaks. That hand sketching pulls the jury in to his story in a way a pre-prepared map might not, forcing them to follow along with his narrative as he quickly highlights locations on the paper.
“[Patterson] gets to a doorway, that’s a little ways right here,” Goldberg says, “and it’s not wide enough for this wheelchair to fit through. It won’t fit through.”
Rather than radio for assistance for the problem, the worker asks Byrom if she can stand and walk through the door. As he describes this, Goldberg steps back to the chair.
The two distinct spaces Goldberg uses in the opening and the demonstrative at the center of each—the hand-drawn map with its bird's-eye view of the case and the chair with its moment-by-moment recounting of the fall—are akin different to different sets on the courtroom stage that he moves between as he recounts the different portions of his narrative.
Now beside the wheelchair, Goldberg mimics Byrom using the doorway to pull herself up. “She goes to move her right foot, [but] it’s caught in this foot pedal. She falls down and shatters her right leg.”
Then Goldberg suddenly switches gears, leaving the mental image of Byrom’s fall. “Now the interesting part about this wheelchair is, it’s different than the normal wheelchairs that you have.” Normal wheelchairs, he explains, have “big blocks” for foot pedals that can be raised and lowered so a rider can exit from the front.
But the bariatric wheelchair Byrom fell from has very narrow foot pedals, Goldberg tells the jury, placing his foot near one of the pedals. “Ones that the pants leg fits in pretty easily, whether it’s up or down.”
“The people that designed this wheelchair knew that… so they designed this wheelchair differently,”Goldberg says. Taking hold of the arm, he raises it, the metal’s squeak echoing in the courtroom and punctuating the reveal at the heart of the negligence claim.
“You don’t go out the front. You go out the side.”
He continued: “You’re going to hear that, despite the fact that this is an unusual type wheelchair, no training was given to it to any of the people at [the hospital] about this wheelchair," he says, tapping the chair for emphasis. "None.”
Goldberg’s use of demonstratives, whether the chair at the center of his openings or the quick hand-drawn sketch that drove the narrative forward, pulled the jury into his case from the trial’s first minutes.
And it set the stage for a $2.66 million verdict.