Dr. Burton Bentley discusses how a medical expert effectively simplified complex concepts in his testimony in a $68.6 million medical malpractice trial. You can watch the full episode here.
Effectively simplifying complex concepts underlying your case is critical to persuading your jury. If jurors don’t understand the basic concepts at the heart of your case, they’re far more likely to become confused about your broader argument. As part of the latest Medical Testimony Master Class, Burton Bentley, II, M.D., details how attorney Michael Trentalange and an expert witness memorably broke down complex terminology to help lay the groundwork for a $68.6 million medical malpractice verdict.
Miranda Crohan suffered catastrophic brain damage following a 2017 bout of hyponatremia or low blood sodium. Crohan suffered from a rare form of diabetes, and her attorney, Michael Trentalange, of Trentalange & Kelley, argued that physicians failed to properly correct the sodium imbalance, particularly in light of her diabetic condition, raising levels too quickly, among other medical errors.
Dr. James Leo, a critical care and internal medicine physician, served as a key expert for the plaintiff at the 2022 trial. Before detailing his conclusions that the medical standard of care had not been met, however, Leo broke down Crohan’s condition and how water retention can cause blood sodium levels to drop.
Using a caricature of the body’s organs as a demonstrative, Leo adeptly took complex terms and explained them with analogies jurors would be more likely to understand.
For example, Dr. Leo explained that a particular hormone “turns off the spigot… shutting off the flow of water out of the kidneys,” while referring to the caricature showing the hormone as a wrench shutting off a spigot attached to a kidney.
To bolster the jurors' understanding of this key concept, Trentalange prompted Dr. Leo with a rhyme, noting that nurses often said the hormone “keeps water in the body, not in the potty.”
Likewise, Tretalange used a simple rhyme to remind jurors the theme of his argument: that physicians failed to meet the standard of care by overcorrecting Crohan’s low sodium far too quickly, without understanding its cause.
“If you don’t know, go slow,” Trentalange repeat often, arguing doctors failed to follow that rule.
Dr. Bentley says those short, memorable explanations will stand out amid days of testimony on complex issues.
“We know now that we are the soundbite, Twitter, instant, change-the-channel generation,” Dr. Bentley said. “So the thought is to have these digestible bites…. [Look for] what’s memorable, what’s understandable.”
But beyond focusing on brief, memorable analogies and descriptions to break down concepts, Dr. Bentley says it’s just as important to work with your expert to cull any explanations that may be unnecessary. For example, any description of a medical condition or process isn't directly relevant should be cut so you don't confuse the jury.
“Really, think what’s a central [element], what draws the facts out, what’s not distracting,” Bentley advised. “How do we simplify, clarify, make interesting, digestible soundbites.”
The full episode of Medical Testimony Master Class spotlighting Dr. Leo’s testimony is out now, where Dr. Bentley also discusses the use of demonstratives, the importance of wording authoritative conclusions, and more.
You can watch the full episode here.
In each episode of Medical Testimony Master Class, Dr. Bentley uses real trial video to analyze the medical testimony that played key roles in cases ranging from car crashes to large-scale product liability lawsuits. Each episode will give you a front-row seat to Dr. Bentley’s analysis of the country’s best attorneys and how they, and their experts, tell the medical stories central to their cases.
Burton Bentley, II, M.D., is the founder and CEO of Elite Medical Experts, a preeminent firm that aligns university physicians and surgeons as experts for trial teams across the country, Dr. Bentley is a leading authority on the presentation of medical testimony. He’ll demonstrate powerful ways to have your expert resonate with the jury by properly setting the stage, demystifying medical constructs, teaching while telling the story, and using demonstratives to drive home key points.
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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