Handling Insurance Cases – 7 – Talking To The Jury

Experienced Insurance Law Attorneys will try their fair share of cases.  Maybe they will average 1 to as many as three a year.  Knowing the Chapter 541 and Chapter 542 of the Texas Insurance Code are vital to going after insurance companies for wrongs they have committed.  Resourcing the Texas Department of Insurance is also important.  When the day comes to stand in front of a jury and present your client’s case it is important to know how to talk to a jury.

The opening statement in a first-party insurance case provides an opportunity to educate the jury on the policy language and give the jurors an idea of how badly the plaintiff’s property was damaged and how badly the insurance company handled the claim.  This provides the last opportunity until the closing statement to speak directly with the jury.  Most judges allow 30 minutes to an hour to do the opening statement based on the complexity of the case.  Of course, some courts allow as little as ten minutes.  Counsel should avoid making a simple case more complex than it is, and use the time as efficiently as possible.

I.  Tell the Story –  The opening statement is the plaintiff’s chance to tell the story from the client’s perspective and talk to the jury about what happened.  As previously stated, jurors are significantly more likely to remember things they see as opposed to what they hear.  Therefore, the use of demonstrative exhibits or photographs is extremely beneficial.  Lawyers should also devote some time to provide a preview of the other evidence and testimony the jurors will hear during your case in chief.  Of note, the majority of jurors will never have been on a jury before and will likely not know anything about an insurance policy or the terms involved.  Therefore, counsel should take time to go over some of the more common terms and issues that will come up over the course of the trial.  Last, but not least, the most effective opening statements are concise, interesting, and informative, and not overly long.

II.  Strengths and Weaknesses – Because a plaintiff gets to go first, the opening statement is the time to hit on the strengths of the case and mention the weaknesses before the other side.  It takes a little wind out of the defendant’s sail to mention the negatives first.  The lawyer must recognize that talking about the bad points of the case does not admit defeat, but rather provides a realistic view of the case.  Omitting information about the weaknesses will allow opposing counsel to frame the evidence in a way that may hurt the case more than if the plaintiff addresses it first.