First Opening Lines

From Trial Preparation Tools by Beth D. Osowski

Following are some effective first lines:

This is a case about [e.g., a sign].

This may work well in a case in which you want to persuade the jury to ignore all the other complexities and distractions of the trial to focus on one prime cause.  It also helps to simply that cause.

The surgery was supposed to be routine.

Such a line acts like a teaser to capture the jurors’ attention, while it is also aimed to make the jurors feel.  Everyone experiences routine events, and thus, a line similar to this might remind jurors that the harmful event could happen to anyone.

The plaintiff had a very unlucky day.

This opening may be used by a defendant who needs to admit that bad things happened to the defendant, but it was nothing more than bad luck—not an event caused by the defendant.

The corporation said “trust me” when it invited Mary into its doors.

This opening line may work to draw the jury’s attention to the great trust customers place on businesses, and the corresponding obligations which businesses must meet.

Don’t let the finger pointing cause you to ignore the simple fact that [e.g., the plaintiff was not seriously hurt.]

If one of the parties acted in a disproportionately bad way—such as by driving drunk—the opposition may be attempting to inflame the jury against the drunk driver.  An opening such as this may help the jury to focus on some other facts, such as the other driver was also negligent or was not hurt very seriously.  The finger pointing also may become an issue when there is more than one defendant.  As a plaintiff’s lawyer, I am often fearful when there are multiple defendants pointing the fingers at each other that the jury may be left too confused to find anyone sufficiently negligent.

The fewer the years remaining, the more precious each one is.

At times, when an elderly person is severely hurt or killed, defendants will emphasize the limited number of years remaining in the plaintiff’s life expectancy in an effort to limit the damages.  Plaintiffs would want to turn that around to make those few years seem more precious.

The simplest explanations are often the best.

Such an opening line may help the jury to focus on a simple explanation that favors your client, over a far more complex explanation offered by the opposition.

Sometimes life is more painful than death.

Catastrophic injuries can be very difficult for a jury to measure.  For an injured person who has severe brain damage, lives in a persistent vegetative state, or who is so severely physically injured, such that death may have been more humane, then this statement may help the jurors to put the extent of the pain and suffering in perspective.

Beth D. Osowski represents civil litigants in many areas, including motor vehicle accidents, premises and product liability, medical and legal malpractice, contract and business litigation, construction disputes, will contests, real estate and landlord/tenant matters.  In 2007, she received what is believed to be the largest jury verdict in her county’s history for a premises liability case.

She has presented many legal seminars as well as authored dozens of outlines for continuing legal education courses.  Ms. Osowski ranked first in her University of North Dakota law school class all three years, and was awarded Moot Court Champion and Best Oralist.  Ms. Osowski is the author of Trial Preparation Tools, from which this article is excerpted.


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