Thursday, October 4, 2012

Making the Dry Come Alive

As I often say, litigators must first and foremost be a writer.  Not a legal writer, but a writer who can make the client's story come alive.  That sounds like sage advice, but hardly seems helpful when you are representing a client on matter involving incredibly dry issues of notice, statute of limitations and jurisdiction?

Making arcane legal issues come alive is no easy task, but here's one tip.  Think about why the result you want is the right and moral one.  Don't get bogged down in the legal minutiae.  Look at the big picture.  Did the plaintiff commence his lawsuit a day after the statute of limitations expired?  Then hold hold his feet to the fire.  Even if the facts and law are so clearly on your side, a rote "plaintiff has commenced the instant action in contravention of the five year statute of limitations" is unconvincing.  It gives the court room to second-guess itself and say "well, he filed the lawsuit late, true, but he was only a day late and suffered a bad injury so I'm sure an exception applies.  After all, who am I close the courthouse door?"

With the right facts, you can write:

Plaintiff fractured his hip as a result of a slip and fall when he walked across a patch of ice outside of the Kwik-E-Mart on January 1, 2007.  According to plaintiff's verified complaint, he underwent intensive surgery that required a week-long hospital stay and a two month outpatient physical therapy regimen.  As plaintiff further alleges, the accident caused him to miss three months of work at his construction job, all while allegedly suffering untold physical pain and suffering.  Though plaintiff remained well aware of the facts surrounding his injury, he never commenced a lawsuit.  Meanwhile, as the accident occurred at night when the Kwik-E-Mart was closed and its only two owner-employees were asleep, Kwik-E-Mart remained unaware over the past five years that a potential lawsuit exposing them to tens of thousands of dollars in liability and legal costs was waiting in the midst. 

"Yet, now, over five years since the accident, and in contravention of the statute of limitations, plaintiff has commenced this lawsuit at a time when potential witnesses have disappeared, memories faded, and evidence lost.  As this Court surely understands, the statute of limitations is designed to discourage plaintiffs from filing lawsuits at such a late juncture that the defendants are left unable to defend themselves.   Plaintiff's action is exactly of the type the statute of limitations is designed to discourage.  For the foregoing reasons, defendant requests that plaintiff's action be dismissed with prejudice."

Perhaps the above passage is overkill (and a bit embellished for dramatic effect), but you get the point.  It tarnishes the plaintiff's credibility while adding a little sympathy to your client.  Further, it provides an element of human drama: greedy plaintiff with second thoughts vs. small business facing the possibility of financial ruin.  Arguments such as these will compel the court to rule in your favor not simply because the law is on your side, but because justice requires the result.       

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