Closing Arguments: Remember Why You Are There

In a hotly contested liability case, it is often easy for counsel to forget that the reason they are there is to achieve a favorable monetary verdict for their client. It is tempting sometimes to spend far too much time discussing liability thereby leaving counsel with little or no time to discuss damages. The reason we are in Court is to try to get a verdict to compensate our client for the damages they have sustained. Obviously, we have to discuss liability. However, we should never discuss liability exclusively and should always reserve a sufficient amount of our time in summation to devote to the subject of damages.
If the case is a close one and it is necessary that counsel discuss liability extensively, I would suggest that counsel discuss liability at least seventy percent (70%) of the time and reserve thirty percent (30%) of his time for damages. If counsel believes that liability is fairly strong, counsel might wish to divide his arguments between fifty-five and sixty-five percent (55-65%) liability and thirty-five to forty-five percent (35-45%) damages. If liability is strong, the counsel might wish to reverse this percentage and focus more on the damage equation to the case. Whatever the issues involved, however, counsel must be organized enough to allocate a sufficient percentage of his time to discuss the damage question such that the jury knows what it is counsel is asking for and why it is that the damage position of the plaintiff is both fair and just.
When discussing money with the jury, I would recommend that counsel always give the jury a range of suggested verdicts. If the jury is not given a range of suggested verdicts, then they have to come up with their own range and they may not pick a range that you will like. By giving a jury a range as to what would be appropriate, this gives the jury something to rationally discuss in the jury room.
For example, in a wrongful death case, if a young person is killed and liability is clear, and the individual had a substantial wage record, by using the Annuity Mortality Table, you can help guide the jury toward a fair range of lost wage reimbursement based on the Annuity Mortality Table and the types of wages the decedent was earning at the time of his or her death. Further, when discussing the non-economic portion of the case, counsel can talk about how much the individual’s life might be worth on an annual basis. Is life worth $25,000.00 per year? Is it $50,000.00 per year? Is it $100,000.00 per year? By showing the jury what the verdict range would be based upon its answer to that question, the jury can then begin to focus on $25,000.00 per year times a 50-year life expectancy or 50 – $100,000.00 per year times a 50-year life expectancy.
In short, I think a jury should be given a range to work with so that they have some basis for discussing damages when they enter the jury room. If you do not give them a suggested range for the type of money that you think would be a fair and just result, you many end up with a result that is less than favorable for your client.

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