Evidence for Jurors in Personal Injury Trials | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

Even the best evidence fails to convince when a personal injury lawyer fails to present it in a way that jury members can understand it. My colleagues and I learned this lesson long ago, and we use advanced techniques to communicate with jurors in language and with posters, PowerPoint slides, videos and learning aids they can fully comprehend.


Treating Jurors as Learners

Many of our courtroom methods mirror the best practices of award-winning classroom teachers. Like them, we accommodate the three basic learning styles of auditory, visual and kinesthetic. In plain English, we tell, we show, and, when appropriate, we allow jurors to touch and physically examine evidence.

While serving on a jury, auditory learners listen closely to what attorneys and witnesses say. They soak in oral arguments, mentally compare statements and put less stock in visual displays—which lawyers call “demonstrative evidence.”

Visual learners far outnumber auditory learners, so lawyers fail their clients if they do not bring several types of demonstrative evidence into the courtroom. Kinesthetic, or hands-on learners, make up the smallest group of jurors and students. That said, almost anyone can gain important insights from actually handling, say, a medical model of a brain while hearing about a plaintiff’s brain injuries and seeing printouts from functional MRIs.

And this is the essential insight my Virginia and North Carolina personal injury law firm colleagues and I had decades ago. Practically no one is a pure auditory learner, an exclusively visual learner or solely a kinesthetic learner. Therefore, combining oral testimony with demonstrative evidence and tactile learning aids allows us to interest and convince the maximum number of jurors.

When we must read a passage from a deposition transcript or police report, we also project the quoted text on a screen. We may then play a recording of the testimony or have the witness repeat their statement while on the witness stand.

When we put up a poster of a medical illustration or play a video, we provide running commentary to direct jurors’ attention. And when we make an important point, we make it at least three times orally and visually.

Never Overwhelming Jurors

We also tend to follow a “rule of three” when deciding how much information to present to jurors at a given time. Based on what litigation strategist Rodney Jew dubbed “mailbox theory,” we limit the points we make with each visual and learning aid.

According to Jew, “Mailbox theory is simply that any person processing new evidence will only process the amount of evidence that can fit into their mailbox (the brain) … [A]ny excess material that will not fit will generally be discarded.”

Translating this into action, we put no more than three bullet points on a PowerPoint slide. We place three labels on a medical illustration. And we then use rhetorical questions to guide jurors into filling in the blanks, thereby involving them directly in their own learning.