W&B Case Review: The Sympathy Factor

Before COVID-19, there were jury trials. And when juries one day return, it will be even more important for your defense counsel to show sensitivity about the real issues people are facing.

In this Video Think Piece, Partner Christina Billiet and Associate Michelle Dian discuss a case they tried — and won — by demonstrating high levels of emotional intelligence around a very real issue they encountered: sympathy.

This case involved the death of a 25-year-old pregnant mother of two young children. The patient, who was a nursing student, presented to our hospital client’s Emergency Department reporting that she pulled a muscle in her back. The ED providers performed a physical exam and ordered several lab studies, all of which were unremarkable. The patient was diagnosed with back pain, prescribed a muscle relaxer, and discharged home. Sadly, she died five days later of acute bilateral pulmonary emboli.

We had a strong defense: our client provided appropriate medical care. Nonetheless, before going to trial, we had to determine whether the huge sympathy factor could be overcome. Our answer was “yes” and ultimately, we succeeded.

To effectively defuse the sympathy factor at trial, your legal team should consider Tina and Michelle’s approach:

  • Know the jury;
  • Focus on the medicine and highlight the care provided;
  • Acknowledge often the tragic nature of the case; and
  • Be thoughtful in your approach with family members.

Bottom Line: The sympathy factor is a real concern in many cases. But sympathetic cases can be tried — and won — with a thoughtful approach.

If you have a sympathetic case that you’d like to discuss, please contact us. We’re here to help.

Christina Billiet

Christina Billiet

Christina Billiet is a trial attorney and partner at Waranch & Brown, LLC. She has extensive experience defending medical malpractice cases, as well as representing physicians, nurses and other health care providers in a variety of Board of Physician, guardianship and hospital privileging matters. Ms. Billiet has successfully tried cases in the District and Circuit Courts of Maryland, as well as the United States District Court for the District of Maryland. She has acted as lead counsel at trial, obtaining defense verdicts in several multi-million dollar cases.
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