By the time opening statements begin, the average juror has already been overwhelmed with information. Voir dire, instructions from the bench, even the courtroom environment are all new and confusing to many jurors, making it difficult for them to fully understand details delivered in an opening. Under these circumstances, too many charts, models, and graphs intended to explain key terms can, in the wrong circumstances, confuse and distract the overwhelmed juror. Particularly where complex terms and ideas are central to a case, opting for a basic, simple demonstration of a theory can often be a powerful tool. That's the route The Cochran Firm's Jane Lamberti took in explaining the deadly buildup of fluid in a sleep center patient's lungs.
Brandon Harris, a 25-year-old developmentally disabled man who suffered from sleep apnea and heart and lung conditions, died during a study at the Emory Clinic Sleep Center. Lamberti, representing Harris' mother, Renee Lewis, claimed the health providers involved, including Neurocare Inc., which operated the clinic, were negligent in telling Harris to lie flat during the study, when he had difficulty breathing in that position.
Lamberti used a simple soda bottle to explain Harris' pulmonary edema and the buildup of fluid in Harris' lungs as he lay flat for the study. "If you have someone who has pulmonary edema and they're erect or elevated on an incline... water won't back up into the lungs," Lamberti said, holding the partially filled bottle upright. "But if you (have) someone who has a weak heart that doesn't pump well and you lie them flat," she continued, slowly tipping the bottle on its side and allowing the fluid to slush up to the cap, "Guess where the water goes. The water goes into the lungs."
While Lamberti also used a slide presentation to walk jurors through the anatomical details, she repeatedly punctuated the effect of the fluid buildup in Lewis' lungs with the soda bottle. It was a simple, strong display that helped jurors quickly grasp a critical, yet potentially confusing key to the case. And, it helped set the stage for a $20 million jury verdict.
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