Mastering Storytelling in Personal Injury and Civil Rights Cases

At their essence every trial is about the story. Each side has their own story that they are trying to persuade the jury to accept. If you convince the jury that your story is the correct one – you prevail. In order to do that you have to deconstruct the other party’s story but first and most importantly you must CONSTRUCT your own POSITIVE story of the case.


  • Decide what your case is about
  • Decide what “really happened”
    • I.e. you must tell a story that is easy to follow, makes sense and allows you to prevail/prove up your claims
    • You must know your case file, know your claims and know how to tell your story
    • Case Example:
      • In Civil Rights Cases – we are often litigating excessive force cases where we have to tell a story to show that the police hurt someone unreasonably which requires debunking the officers’ story of why they were in danger and used force to defend themselves
      • In Personal Injury Cases- we are often litigating a case around how our client has been injured due to the reckless conduct of others.We also have to debunk the Defense contention that our client “got what they deserved” or “not as injured as they claim / it’s a money grab”


  • In order to determine your claims you do not just look at your Complaint for your causes of action but you look at your JURY INSTRUCTIONS & your VERDICT FORM to figure out what you have to PROVE in your STORY
  • Often those jury instructions will have factors, or prongs you have to meet
  • Then those jury instructions are condensed down into your verdict form
  • Case Example: In Civil Rights Cases – we are often litigating excessive force cases where we have to tell a story to show that the police hurt someone unreasonably which requires debunking the officers’ story of why they were in danger and used force to defend themselves
  • Case Example: In Personal Injury Cases – We often have to grapple with duties and the breach of that duty, foreseeability and damages


  • So when you tell your story (i.e. what happened in few paragraphs “elevator speech”) it should be easy for the jury to understand story, read that verdict form and find for you.
  • What is your case about?
  • Mondragon v. City of Fremont: A group of highly trained covert officers had tracked two violent criminals with the help of GPS on the car to a large apartment complex pool and learned that they were with two young teenage girls. The officer’s training and department policies dictated that they should not rush into take these suspects into custody because it would likely result in harm to the girls and the public – but to wait until an opportune time. Instead, they rushed into parking complex, even while their fellow officer called off the operation in fear for the two girls, the two suspects sped past the two officer cars who were to trying to make the stop and officers blindly fired several rounds into the side and back of the car killing a young innocent sixteen years old girl – when there was no urgency or even danger.
    • This story must be simple and straightforward and meets the claims. Officers are only allowed to use their guns when they are faced with the threat of immediate serious bodily harm at the time they fire their weapons.
      • In this story, the danger to the officers had passed because they fired weapons when the car was already passing them and into the back of it.


  • You also have to look at the other side’s story. They are going to tell a story that reflects their defense and you have to hope that it is a complex – as complex stories are easier to pick apart. If it is a simple one you have to find your “tie breakers” and “liars” – this is called deconstructing their story. It requires you to know your casefile, all of Defendants witnesses and all of the evidence.
  • Essentially in a trial you will be casting doubt on Defendant’s story by pointing out credibility issues of their witness, how the evidence does not match their story AND AT THE SAME TIME explaining how the simplest answer to what “Really happened” is YOUR story because it makes sense, it’s simple and it matches the evidence
  • REMEMBER Physical Evidence has no memory, does not lie and does not pick sides


  • Telling a story in trial is a lot like making a movie. In order to tell your story to the jury you are going to need “ACTORS” with “LINES” and PROPS”
  • The actors are your witnesses, their lines are their testimony and the props are the evidence you’ll need to build your story.
  • Once you’ve decided on your story you need to go through your case file and figure out what evidence you’ll need to tell your story
  • This means figuring out what the witnesses testimony or “lines or script” are, what evidence “props” you will need to dramatize the “lines and scripts” and in what order the story should be told
  • ALL OF THIS MATTERS – think about disjointed movies that are hard to follow v. simple story lines that are easy to follow
  • You are dealing with 7-12 jurors who would rather be doing something else you NEED TO MAKE IT EASY for them to FIND FOR YOU


  • At closing you want to remind your jury that the simplest story that matches the evidence is the one that makes sense.
  • You want to point out why Defendants story is complex, forces a jury to make illogical conclusions or flies in the face of common sense or is too hard to follow because the lies are hard to follow
  • Then you want to STATE YOUR STORY via the VERDICT FORM

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