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Jim Sellers, Attorney At Law

40+ Years of experience in Personal Injury Law in both Washington and Oregon


One thing that is well understood by all plaintiff’s attorneys who try cases. That is that the person of the plaintiff is one of most important elements of case value. All cases are valued by insurers and attorneys based on their judgment of what the outcome will be if the claim is to be litigated to a jury, a judge, or an arbitrator(s). Until a lawsuit is actually filed, judgments are invariably made on the assumption that the claim will be tried to a jury whether or not that ever


Therefore, perhaps the most import factor of value in the case is the person who is injured. It would be unusual if that person never takes the stand. If the jury like the plaintiff, the case is going to go a lot better that if the jury does not like the plaintiff. When we refer to whether a jury likes the plaintiff, that also means that they may admire, respect, or sympathize with the plaintiff. Perhaps a better characterization is how well the jury relates to the plaintiff.

The jury is made up of a variety of people. The jurors are more likely to be working class people. Some will be retired; some may be chronically unemployed. Some may be young mothers. Some may have come to this country as migrants. There may be racial diversity among the jurors. There probably are never going to be excessively wealthy people if for no other reason than there are few of those people around. Without any question jurors have bias’. One of the important jobs of a plaintiff’s attorney is to overcome or neutralize perceived juror bias.

I once had a lovely 22-year-old client who had been a Miss Washington contestant. She was very nice. She did not give the appearance of having been traumatized, injured, or distressed. I was worried that the jury might not understand what her problem was. Few jurors had her beauty and may have wished they shared it. Another client had been a college cheerleader who worked out all the time in her middle years. Same issue.


In a different and probably opposite vein, if the plaintiff is angry, insolent, argumentative, resentful, or is perceived to be lying or exaggerating, jurors will have a hard time relating to the plaintiff. If a jury perceives that the plaintiff is lying, that case is over. Most wage or impaired earning capacity claims are abandoned if it will come out that the plaintiff was being paid under the table or otherwise evaded paying taxes. If the plaintiff was intoxicated when injured, that will be a very steep hill to climb. If the jury perceives the any of these problems with the defendant, the defendant will not do well. The biggest problem for any party is to be thought to untruthful.

I had a machinist client in his mid-sixties. He was tall and fit. He had elected and felt obligated to go in the military to fight for his country rather than accept one of a number of college athletic scholarships that had been offered to him in his youth. For four years after his injury, he worked walking on a concrete floor with a temporary cast on his leg, which was very painful, in order to put off a surgery that he needed to repair his injuries from being hit as a pedestrian. When I asked him why he put off the surgery, he turned and looked at the jury, and then spontaneously, and without any warning, burst into tears and shouted out that he was afraid that he would never be able to work again. That jury rendered a very sizeable verdict for the injury that he had sustained. He was open, honest, clearly a man of principle and solid values, and the jury related to him. There is no substitute for open honesty.

Sometimes, clients will ask if it is all right for them to go back to work even though their doctor had taken them off work. The issue is whether they delayed or impaired their recovery by going back to work early. Jurors related to plaintiffs who will sacrifice to work. When we go to trial, we endeavor to let our clients know how important it can be to be open and honest even if they do not say much. When a plaintiff is on the stand it is important that they have understood that they honestly want to be the kind of person who they would want to be.



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