Month: May 2017


Mini-opening statements are a relatively new phenomenon that is catching on in most states. A mini-opening statement is simply a 3 to 5 minute opening statement that takes place before the jury is questioned on the case.  Each counsel presents an overview of the case from his or her client’s perspective and previews the issues jurors will have to decide.  They are non-argumentative and are not a substitute for opening statements. It sets forth the basic positions of the parties and allows to jurors to understand what issues may spark a bias or concern for a particular juror.  It follows that basic premise that a juror should know the subject matter of the litigation before exploring personal biases. 
Should the juror know that “texting and driving” is going to be a big issue in the case? Or that there will be a significant amount of medical photos that some may find particularly gruesome? Or that the case involves a gang member who grew up in poverty and is now accused of a crime for which he is claiming an alibi, but the alibi witness is also a gang member?  Do you think that jurors may have some biases if a personal injury lawyer Newport Beach CA turns to is allowed to give a brief mini-opening statement concerning the fundamental outline facts of the case?  Indeed, in these difficult cases, jurors will be able to give much better information concerning their biases if they are given some facts upon which to reflect on those biases. Hey, I love football, but I hate the Dallas Cowboys.  I could be “fair and impartial” to the NFL, but if the specifics of the case involved an advantage that the Dallas Cowboys may achieve with a trial win, I may have to reveal some of my biases and dislike for the Dallas Cowboys and let the lawyer decide whether I am right for the case.
In certain states it can be difficult to get a judge to allow mini opening statements, even though they save time and money and will result in a better equipped jury panel to decide any case—criminal or civil. Judges are usually slow to change. It is up to the lawyers to argue effectively for the use of mini-opening statements. Below are particular arguments that have been helpful and successful in the past.
Courts should allow mini-opening statements for two reasons.  First, mini-openings make the voir dire process more efficient, complete, and meaningful.  These mini opening statements bring issues and relevant factors into focus for prospective jurors and the parties, and elicit better informed and candid responses during questioning.  This helps parties and the court quickly uncover concerns, biases, and prejudices from the venire, and allows parties to make more effective and intelligent use of their peremptory strikes.  Second, mini-openings have a time-saving and attention-grabbing advantage over a written and read “joint statement of the case.”  Based on several pilot programs in California, mini-openings generate interest in the case so that prospective jurors will be less inclined to claim marginal hardships and waste time.  One study also reported that mini-openings elicit greater interest from prospective jurors in fulfilling jury service.
These are not novel findings.  The courts are essentially allowing the jurors to preview the back jacket of the book to determine if the book is of interest to them or if, for some reason, they have moral or philosophical objections to the book’s subject matter.  Mini-openings are neither argumentative nor a substitute for opening statements.  They instead permit counsel to outline their case to the venire, raise questions and concerns, and facilitate a more productive and comprehensive questioning process by providing context and interest to jurors.
Diligent counsel needs to push hard for mini opening statements as they are the best way to discover true bias of any prospective juror. The goal is to begin a case with a fair set of jurors. This tool helps facilitate that goal better than any other.

Thanks to our friends and contributors from Bruno | Nalu for their insight into the importance of mini-opening statements.

Will a personal injury award affect my taxes?

If you are in the process of settling a personal injury claim, the allocation of damages is critically important because an incorrect allocation can result in taxable income. Generally, a recovery from settlement or judgment is excluded from income if it is a result of physical injury or physical sickness. Damages include, but are not limited to, elements such as medical and legal expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, and emotional trauma. There are a few exceptions to this rule.

The first exception is that punitive damages are taxable. Second, any amounts received that are attributable to interest is taxable. Third, if the taxpayer has deducted any of the expenses related to the settlement, the amounts previously deducted are taxable. Finally, any portion of the recovery that is allocated to property damage is taxable to the extent that it exceeds the basis of the damaged property.

For example, say you were dragged off an airplane by security and, as a result of the overly aggressive guards, you banged your head against a seat causing a concussion, broken nose, and your $2,000 laptop was destroyed. A few months later, your personal injury lawyer contacts the airline requesting compensation for your medical bills, emotional trauma, and lost wages from your physical injuries. It agrees to settle after the video of the incident goes viral. The settlement agreement stipulates that you receive $148,000 for medical expenses, pain and suffering and emotional trauma, and $2,000 for your computer. This settlement is 100% tax-free, for federal tax purposes, assuming you have not previously deducted any of the medical expenses.

I’m now going to change the facts a little to show how easy this is to turn into a taxable recovery. Assume the same facts as before, except that the settlement agreement now stipulates that you receive $130,000 for medical expenses, etc.; $10,000 for prejudgment interest; $2,000 for the computer; and $8,000 for the unrecoverable files on the computer. In this example, $18,000 of the settlement is taxable income. This income could have easily been avoided by allocating the interest and lost files to mental anguish; instead, you will have a tax bill on April 15th.

In summary, it is important to consider taxes when deciding how to allocate a settlement recovery. If you are not careful, you can turn a windfall into a substantial tax bill when nothing should be owed. For more information about the taxation of tort awards or tax issues in general, be sure to consult with a Bethesda, Maryland tax attorney.

Thanks to our friends and contributors from The Law Office of Aaron P. Richter for their insight into the effects of a personal injury award on you taxes.