You recall all the horror stories of late where children’s toys from offshore — usually China — have unsafe levels of lead or other defects that threaten children with harm.
This past summer, Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 to try to remedy some of these problems. The new law bans lead and other harmful substances from toys, creates a publically accessible consumer complaint database, increases civil penalties for violators and protects whistleblowers who report safety defects.
The law didn’t come into full effect in time for this holiday season, but it ups the ante for those who manufacture and distribute unsafe toys because it creates higher standards they will face should their products cause injuries that wind up in court.
Toy-related accidents are a big problem in the United States. The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates there were 220,500 toy-related injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms in 2006, with some 165,100 injuries involving children younger than 15. Twenty two of the later group, died, with the leading causes of death being airway obstruction from small toys and injuries sustained from riding toys.
When purchasing toys for your own children, be aware that you are your family’s first line of defense. Read the labels on the toys you buy and purchase age appropriate products.
Holidays should be happy times. By paying attention to the toys your children play with, you can make sure the holidays are filled with nothing but fun.
Whether you are a judge on the bench, a juror in the jury box or an attorney arguing the case, a personal injury trial takes a lot out of you.
What none of us usually take into account is, the human body has natural rhythms and patterns that affect our ability to absorb and process information that the courtroom process rarely take into account.
For example, it is well documented that stress causes the body to produce the hormone, cortisol, and that excess cortisol can interfere with the brain’s ability to create new memories. (See this article on the Diurnal Cortisol Cycle.) At the same time, when the body produces increased amounts of the hormone dopamine, concentration levels rise.
When I’m training for a marathon, I make sure to wear a fuel belt with water, little carbohydrate gel paks and gatorade to replenish minerals and electrolytes that my body uses while running, because everyone understands that the human system, like a machine, needs replenishment to function in top form.
So, I’m always amazed that during trial, the jury usually isn’t provided much more in the way of fuel than the bailiff or courtroom attendant pointing out where the drinking fountain can be found and how snacks can be purchased on the second floor and in the rooftop cafeteria.
This is downright weird, when you think of it. After all, trial is stressful on all the participants. The jury especially is empowered as a democratic body to weigh facts and decide on a verdict, which is hands down the most important job in the process. So, why don’t we take better care of our decision makers?
In the courtrooms where I practice, attorneys are usually permitted to bring in water bottles and can stash snacks in their bags if they are so inclined. It’s always felt awkward to me to sip my cool water when I know the jury in the box isn’t provided with the same opportunity.
Note to self: Propose that courtroom judges be asked to instruct jurors that they may bring food and drink, reasonably, into the box so they can help themselves stay alert. Appropriate limits need to be set, say water or soft drinks for consumption during testimony, snacks available in the jury room during breaks. Perhaps the attorneys can be asked to equally contribute to a fuel fund to save the state some financial burden.
Not all judges will allow for providing fuel for jurors, but some may. I think most would be willing to let the jurors know they are in a stressful job and let them know, just like my marathon trainers tell their runners, that getting the most from the experience requires proper fuel.
I’ve been working with two tools that I believe all trial lawyers need to master to improve how they organize their arguments in briefs and in the courtroom.
The first tool is Mind Mapping using the Mindjet MindManager Pro software. The second is rule based organization, as taught in Rick Friedman’s book, Rules of the Road.
My first example is a mind map outline of a conventional negligence analysis. You’ll notice the map documents negligence in the same way it is taught to law school first years in their torts class, that is, duty, breach, causation and damages.
This analysis technique works adequately when the fact pattern is simple, such as a traffic accident or an uncomplicated slip and fall. But, I think we can improve on it.
Now, see how the analysis looks when you apply the rule-based approach in a mind map:
You can see that the rule-based analysis is simpler and more direct. I think it puts the advocate in a better position to communicate their case clearly, because it forces the story into a simpler framework that is easier to understand.
Detailed legal analysis is great for attorneys thinking through their cases. But when we try to force a trier of fact, particularly a lay jury, to follow a complex thought process, we are raising barriers to understanding rather than building bridges.