By Hon. (Ret.) Ken E. Adair
Be Careful With Your Words
Video Transcribed: Years ago, I watched a video, an old interview with Dick Cavett and Alfred Hitchcock. Albert Hitchcock, I hope you know, if you don’t, you can look it up, he was a famous horror movie producer, filmmaker, director.
He was a very disturbing person if you listen to him talk. Dick Cavett was a very elegant interviewer back in the sixties and seventies.
In this conversation, one of the things came up that Dick Cavett asked Alfred Hitchcock, “I hear that you laugh hysterically at some of the more gruesome scenes in your horror movies.” Alfred Hitchcock laughed out loud and said, “I think they’re hilarious,” with his thick, British accent. “It’s some of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.”
And Dick Cavett was a little disturbed by his answer. “Well, can you explain that?” And he said, “Yes.” He said, “You put a camera on the sidewalk and you watch someone like Charlie Chaplin, twirling his cane and tipping his old raggedy hat to the ladies and he’s a bum and his clothes are torn up and he’s walking and he’s tipping his hat to the ladies and he’s not paying attention to where he goes.
And then you see him walking up toward a manhole cover and people chuckle and he’s tipping his hat to the ladies. And then he walks up and he falls into the hole. And then there’s a slide whistle sound. And everybody laughs hysterically.”
He said, “I videotape the same scene and what I do is I put the camera up on a rooftop and I look down to the hole of the manhole cover. And you see a man coming and you don’t see his face. You just see the top of his hat and you see him nodding and being polite.
And he falls in the hole and I slide the camera down and I look down into the hole and instead of the slide whistle I’ve got dramatic music and you look down and you see this man curled up in a ball and he’s got cuts and gashes and bones sticking out.
And he’s got blood coming out of his mouth and he’s gasping his last breath and it’s horrifying, but it’s the same scene. It’s just done more realistically. And it’s a horror movie instead of a comedy.”
And I remembered watching that interview and I remember thinking that how significant that can be for a trial lawyer when telling a story.
We use words like slip and fall and I always think of the slide whistle and the boing sound when the person hits the ground and it’s a cartoon sound, slip, and fall, don’t try slip and fall cases.
I was sitting in the cookhouse out at the Trial Lawyer College in Wyoming, and all these lawyers telling their law stories at the breakfast table. And one lawyer was talking about his med mal case, med mal case, med mal, med mal…
And I hear this fist pound on the table and Jerry Spence, the mentor and creator of the Trial Lawyer College, he yells out and says, “I don’t ever want to hear about a medical malpractice case. You can never win a medical malpractice case.
You’ll lose every one of them. Quit trying these medical malpractice cases.” He said, “Now if it’s a medical betrayal case, you try those all you want.”
We have to be careful with the lingo we use. The only thing worse than premises liability, which is legalese, which is the death knell of justice, is legalese when you got a jury involved, are a slip and fall. It’s comic, a dangerous condition, figure out some other term, medical betrayal.
I tend to agree with Jerry Spence, it’s very difficult to win a medical malpractice case. Everybody makes mistakes. Sometimes when there’s so much at stake, the consequences are just higher. It’s got to be a betrayal.
Be careful with your words. Don’t fall in line with using slip and fall, premises liability, malpractice, medical negligence, that kind of words. Just use the words that people would use to describe what happened.
I hope this video has been helpful to you in some way, and thank you for watching and listening. This is Oklahoma Trial Attorney, Ken Adair. If You are looking for First and Second Chair Co-Counsel, Focus Groups & Mock Jury Trial Sociometrics, Jury Trial Preparation Services, visit trial-win.com