One of the most popular strategies used and advocated by many plaintiff’s attorneys across the country is the “broken rule” strategy. The theory is that the most important strategy for any plaintiff is to establish a clear rule up front, and then prove that the defendant broke that rule. Some of the popularity of this theory comes from Reptile, written by David Ball and Don Keenan.
As I’ve written before, there are a variety of significant problems and shortcomings associated with the Reptile strategy, one of which is that the “science” that serves as the foundation for the theory has largely been disproven. However, just like some people still believe vaccinations lead to autism, many attorneys have brushed aside the problems with the science behind the Reptile strategy. So let’s set the science discussion to the side and take a closer look at the “broken rule” strategy. Continue reading →
In episode 8 of The Sniper Defense, podcast playbook for defense attorney, jury expert Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D. discusses the popular plaintiff strategy Reptile and its implications for defense strategy throughout discovery and trial.
Reptile has become a popular topic of discussion for attorneys across the country, perhaps because folks like myself continue to write about it. Most of us have witnessed the fall-out, whether it be panicked pleas for feedback on defense forums or pre-trial motions to preclude “Reptilian” tactics. I’ve written extensively on defense strategies to counteract Reptile, but the more important question is whether or not defense attorneys should even worry about it in the first place.
If we focus on the science alone, this discussion quickly ends. Keenan and Ball claim to have derived their theory from the work of Paul MacLean, a neuroscientist who did most of his work in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. MacLean proposed the triune theory of the brain, a three-component theory of the brain. One of those components, under MacLean’s theory, is the reptilian complex, which houses our survival instincts. Unfortunately for MacLean, contemporary research has shown that many of his assumptions and conclusions associated with the triune brain theory are wrong. Continue reading →
Each year in the United States, juries award billions of dollars in damages to plaintiffs. In 2014, a jury in Florida awarded $23.6 billion to a single plaintiff. There are two possible explanations for these extraordinary numbers. First, for a variety of reasons, defense attorneys are often forced to take unwinnable cases all the way to trial. In these situations, they do the best they can, but cannot avoid the inevitable.
The second explanation is that defense attorneys are failing in some way to adequately try their cases. This is not intended to give insult to defense attorneys. In fact, it’s an overdue acknowledgement of the overwhelming burden that is placed at their feet. While the typical plaintiff’s case has a natural story and appeal that insulates it from even the most unskilled plaintiff attorneys, convincing a judge and jury to embrace a defense theory requires a delicate dance down a path that is fraught with danger at every turn. Continue reading →
Plaintiffs’ attorneys approach case development and presentation in a multitude of both predictable and unpredictable ways, but none is more dangerous to defendants than what I call the “referendum” strategy. In short, the “referendum” strategy is a clever strategy that, when successful, allows plaintiffs to sidestep their burden of proof under the law and instead, create what is essentially a reverse burden of proof for the defense. It shifts the focus of the case to the defense and forces defendants to cope with a barrage of seemingly-disorganized attacks. In reality, what can sometimes seem like disorganization and foolish decision-making by a plaintiff’s attorney is often a very calculated attack. The results can be devastating. The “referendum” strategy is often the source of headline-grabbing or record-breaking damage awards. Continue reading →
In my last blog post, I discussed the merits of lobbying the court to preclude a plaintiff from engaging in “reptilian” tactics before the jurors. Following some lively discussion about the post among some thoughtful defense attorneys, it occurred to me that I might have put the cart before the horse. For example, one commenter reasonably suggested there is value in attempting to preclude “reptilian” tactics because it “throws the plaintiff off of their game.” The irony of course is that the defense’s fixation on the “reptilian” theory and the need to throw plaintiff “off of their game” suggests that it is the defense that has been thrown off of its game. This brought about the realization that more discussion is needed about what the “reptilian” approach really is and how it can be effectively dismantled.
Reptile has become a popular topic amongst some members of the defense bar. It is important to be aware of the so-called “Reptilian” approach, but the concern should not extend far beyond that awareness. The reality is that the strategies defendants should be deploying at trial, regardless of whether or not plaintiff is engaging in “Reptilian” tactics, are more than sufficient to counteract such tactics. Consequently, the effectiveness of “Reptilian” tactics may be overstated due to verdicts that are not a product of the strengths of plaintiff’s “reptilian” tactics, but rather the product of the defense’s failure to craft a trial strategy that provides the appeal and the tools for jurors to find for the defense. Continue reading →