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Multi-Million Dollar Personal Injury Awards and the Affect of Visual Injuries on the Jury

I recently read about a $15 million jury verdict awarded to a family that suffered burn injuries as a result of a gas explosion in their rental home in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana. This large jury verdict reminded me of a burn victim I represented in Assumption Parish, Louisiana who suffered extreme burns over 80% of his body as the result of an industrial accident and received a 4.2 million dollar jury verdict.  These two verdicts demonstrate the powerful effect visible severe injuries can have on a jury. Burn accidents in particular can cause truly horrific physical damage and scarring. In my client’s case, he had undergone numerous operations and had many scars. It was clear to the jury just by looking at my client that he had experienced extreme pain and suffering. As a result, the jury bonded with him and awarded him a substantial verdict.

When Pain and Suffering Is Not Obvious

The opposite situation is also true – when an injury is not clearly visible, a jury will usually be less sympathetic to the plaintiff.  One example of this type of case is the closed back injury, which is a ruptured disc that has not been operated on. The jury cannot see the injury or any scarring, so it is difficult for them to relate to the pain experienced. Unless you have an experienced personal injury trial lawyer who can fully demonstrate the nature of the injury and the pain experienced by the plaintiff, the jury will likely award a lesser verdict.  A lawyer with trial experience knows that it is not enough to have the client get on the stand and testify that he or she is experiencing pain. The jury needs to have a visual picture of the injury to fully understand the plaintiff’s pain and suffering.  For ruptured disc injuries, the attorney would need to educate the jury about spinal injuries and show the plaintiff’s actual CT scan or MRI.

Behavioral and Emotional Problems Are Not Visible

Closed head injuries can also be difficult to litigate since the damage is not visible and often the result is personality changes rather than pain. I once represented a man from New Orleans, Louisiana who suffered a closed head injury as the result of a rear end collision. A CT scan of his brain demonstrated some possible organic changes, however it was not immediately obvious that my client had suffered an injury. It only became clear that the accident had caused a brain injury when my client started experiencing personality changes.  In this case, the witnesses were important – family members described my client’s mood swings, sleep problems and behavioral changes.

The lesson to be learned here is that when an injury is not visually obvious to the jury, your lawyer will need to work harder to inform the jury about your pain and suffering. If the jury does not properly understand what you have experienced, they will not be emotionally attached and this can reduce the verdict.   When you have a non-obvious injury, such as a closed back injury, nerve damage, post traumatic stress syndrome or closed head injury, it is crucial to hire an experienced trial attorney who knows how to fully communicate your experience to the jury.