Dirk Vandever served as the youngest president of the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association before going on to become president of the Kansas City Bar Foundation and the American Board of Trial Advocacy (KS/MO). He regularly lectures on trial practice at national, state and local levels. He graduated with honors from the University of Missouri – Columbia (BS) and UMKC (JD). His proudest achievements have been his own two children and being able to help his clients who need it.
Voir Dire, Opening Statement, Closing Argument, & Rebuttal
In July 2018 a lady passenger on a motorcycle on the highway struck a SUV pulling out at the intersection. The defense was that neither the motorcycle nor the SUV acted “perfectly” meaning that this was just one of those unfortunate “accidents” that nobody intended. This was a major focus during voir dire where several people were excused precisely because that is what they thought. The resultant damage in the case was the loss of a leg. Despite that horrific injury, the woman returned to work (for 9 months) and has gone on to live what superficially would be seen as a “normal” life going on planes and driving long distances for trips to oceans, lakes, mountains, etc. In fact, this demonstrated extreme bravery to not give up and show her determination to return to some degree of normalcy. Despite a Life Care Plan of $4.25 Million, the defendant rejected a $2.2 Million demand. After the closing argument the released alternate juror said, “I would have found a defense verdict because this was ‘just an accident’.” Shortly thereafter the jurors (convened in the hometown of defense counsel who many knew by her first name) returned a $9 Million verdict. The defense’s mantra was “rural/conservative jurors will NEVER award a 7-figure verdict. They never have and never will because they know the “truth” that most wrecks are merely “accidents” and no one should be made rich by tragedy.”
1. Voir dire is always one of the most important skills a plaintiff’s lawyer has including the need to tailor voir dire toward a smaller venue and hometown defense counsel.
2. Live Experts Trump Even The Best Video Depositions: As everyone who has ever tried a case knows, the jury automatically perks up when they see a live human being walk through the doorway. As has been discussed before, if you are going to play an “important” videotaped deposition it is critical to trim it as much as humanly possible and hopefully play it before the jury expects live witnesses.
3. Live lay witnesses can be as important as the experts themselves. While you have to have the experts, live lay witnesses can compliment the expert testimony with real life vignettes which show what the expert’s “conclusions” mean in the real world.
4. Plaintiff’s Character: It is necessary to always bear in mind that in presenting your underdog story, you are presenting an individual who is overcoming severe challenges and “refusing to give up.” Rather than run away from any prior physical problems or the fact that the plaintiff has returned to many of the “normal” activities that existed before the injury, celebrate and embrace those as showing what a worthy individual the plaintiff is.
6. Closing argument continues the damage approach started in voir dire (whether you actually request a specific figure or just talk about a “very substantial amount” or “millions” of dollars). If you don’t ask for a specific dollar amount before, it is the