Trial Science | Fill it in or have it filled in for you
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Fill it in or have it filled in for you

Pretty simple sign.  Neat.  Straight-forward.  But, clear?

Here is how a fictitious jury might discuss this sign:

  • Juror #1:  “I need one of those.”
  • Juror #2:  “I do, too, but I bet there’s a delivery fee.”
  • Juror #3:  (lots of nodding)
  • Juror #4:  “They just say that to get you into the store.  There must be a catch.”
  • Juror #3:  (lots of head-shaking)
  • Juror #5:  “The Pallets are just running around over there with no controls?”
  • Juror #6:  “No.  Just the opposite.  Those poor Pallet people are being confined against their will.  We need to help them.”
  • Juror #3:  (perplexed look)
  • Juror #7:  “Wait!  Isn’t Pallets that guy who was innocent, but got charged with something that one time over that thing that happened to that other one?”
  • Juror #8:  “No!  This is about artistic taste.  In my view, artists should just stick to primary colors, not all those free-style, crazy mixtures, like purple!”

. . . and on and on – interpreting that simple sign in a way that nobody could predict, and nobody wants.  But, in a way to instruct attorneys to be very precise in pointing the jurors to the vital meanings in the evidence.

If the story of your case is the framework, then the facts are the bricks and mortar to fill it all in.  Leave out a brick or two and the jury WILL FILL IN THE HOLE THEMSELVES with who-knows-what.

In the real world, for instance (proving once again that truth is stranger than fiction):

  • The nursing home wrongful death case in which a resident rolled out of bed and died from being trapped in the tiny place between the wall heater and her bed due to a lack of supervision, but two separate focus group members said, “I bet she killed herself to get out of the nursing home.”
  • The hardware store customer who got knocked to the cement floor by a loose pipe and was so disoriented and head-injured that he told the clerk he was OK and didn’t need 911, but who could not find his way out of the parking lot.  He ended up in the ER 2 hours later with a massive concussion, taken in by a friend who happened upon him, aimlessly circling the parking lot.  Two separate focus group members said, “he is 50% liable because he didn’t cooperate with the store and he didn’t go to the ER right away.”

In the research literature, pointing to the vital element of a story (both in words AND pictures) capitalizes on the learning / persuasion phenomenon called redundancy [using two senses to say the same thing at the same time], contiguity [placing words on an image right next to the vital fact], and coherence and signaling [nothing extraneous in the words or picture used].  See Mayer, Multi-Media Learning, 2nd Ed., 2009. 

My advice:

  1. Be precise.
  2. Leave nothing to chance.  Even if it seems painfully obvious to you and your team, it may not be so obvious to a lay jury hearing your story for the first time.  You may want to test it with a focus group or two;
  3. Use words and pictures that leave no doubt about where that vital element of your concept resides;

Finally, if you are looking for that last-minute holiday gift and “PALLET” is on your list for Uncle Bob or Aunt Mary, let me know.  I can hook you up.  (You pay only shipping and handling.  ACT NOW and I can get you 2, while supplies last.)

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