An impassioned and personal closing argument is often your chance to persuade the jury. But get too personal and you could commit a “golden rule” violation (i.e., you cannot ask the jury to “put yourself in my client’s shoes”). So hats off to the plaintiff’s attorney in Chen v. Herschel (D2d2 Mar. 2, 2022 no. B306200) 2022 WL 610658 (nonpub. opn.), who deployed a clever rhetorical device that put the jury in the plaintiff’s shoes, yet avoided a “golden rule” violation. The result was an $18 million verdict for the client.
In Chen, the defendant drove her truck into the car driven by plaintiff and her mother. The collision crushed the plaintiff’s mother, causing internal injuries that resulted in an agonizing several moments before her death. The defendant first drove away, then apparently returned, and dragged the mother several feet away, while the plaintiff, immobilized by the accident, pleaded with the defendant to stop. The mother was later transported to the hospital where she died.
The plaintiff’s closing argument, as you can imagine, sought to hit some emotional notes, and this drew a “golden rule” objection from the defense counsel. In effect, the jury heard counsel reference memories of “your” mother being killed 16 different times, and to consider what that would be like. Wasn’t this a “golden rule” violation?
No, held the court. Why? Because although counsel said “you” and “your” 16 different times, due to counsel’s shrewd rhetorical device setting up a hypothetical involving the plaintiff, all the “yous” and “yours” technically referred to the plaintiff. Not to the jurors.
A very effective argument. For which the jury returned a verdict of $18 million.