Arguments on non-economic damages can turn into a veritable courtroom minefield for plaintiffs’ attorneys. An overly aggressive request can alienate a jury, while not being specific enough risks jurors undervaluing the case. At trial over a fatal truck collision, however, The Vartazarian Law Firm’s Steve Vartazarian delivered a masterful argument on non-economic damages to secure an eight-figure verdict.
Jose Garcia died when his vehicle struck the back of a big rig truck parked on the side of the road. Vartazarian, representing Garcia’s widow in a suit against the trucking company involved, claims the tractor-trailer was parked illegally so that the driver could urinate.
In closing arguments , Vartazarian turns to non-economic damages by using the jury form as an anchor. With the relevant questions highlighted on an overhead projector, Vartazarian walks jurors through each of the elements of the non-economic damages claim, such as love, companionship, and training.
But rather than merely read the elements straight through, he intersperses real-world examples the jury can connect with. The law, he says recognizes “that your spouse protects you at night, when you’re holding hands and walking from a restaurant to your car. Now she has to do that alone.”
Vartazarian goes farther, relaying his own experience to jurors as a way to detail the depth of the loss of companionship. “Before you meet the person you want to be with, you walk around on Sundays, see couples holding hands, doing activities together. When I saw that and I lacked companionship, it was hurtful because I yearned for that,” Vartazarian said. “She finally found that, she had that. She didn’t have to look for it.”
Having connected with the jury by sharing his own experience, Vartazarian invites jurors to imagine themselves compared to Garcia’s widow. “Put yourself in her shoes and think about what the value of that loss is,” he says. “We go home to our spouses or to whomever it is that we’re with. She doesn’t.”
But more than simply the loss itself, Vartazarian ensures the jury's mind remains on why that loss occurred. "Why?" he asks. "Because somebody wanted to urinate?"
Some attorneys go into detail breaking down damages and writing figures down next to each line item on a jury form. Vartazarian, however, uses a more gentle approach here, while still suggesting a reference for jurors to use in their deliberations.
The loss running into the future, he says, could very well be “8 - $10 million on its own,” while past non-economic damages may run $4-7 million. Factor that in with the economic claim and Vartazarian says jurors could be looking at an award in the ballpark of $12-20 million.”
But, he emphasizes “It is for you to decide."
That approach to the damage request gives jurors a beginning point to calculate damages, while not allowing mathematical calculations to pull their attention away from the more emotional aspects of the loss. And the request was aided, Vartazarian told CVN after the verdict, by focus groups showing a likely award between $7-11 million.
In the end, Vartazarian’s powerful damage argument played a key role in the jury’s $11.05 million verdict, including $10 million in non-economic damages.
Email Arlin Crisco at email@example.com.
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