By Savage, Turner, Durham, Pickney & Savage Trial Attorneys
Trial Attorney Zachary Sprouse credits lessons examined and explained in The Domino Theory by Trial Guides author and trial attorney Ed Capozzi
In October of 2019, attorneys Zachary R. Sprouse and Brent J. Savage, Jr. secured a $4.25 million verdict in a jury trial for a client who was catastrophically injured while working for a tree service company.
Eight weeks later, Zach Sprouse, Brent Savage Jr, and Andrew Gebhardt secured a $3 million verdict after a four-day trial on behalf of an injured trucker.
The Case against the Defendant Tree Service: $4.25 million
The jury determined that the defendant crew leader’s approach to a dangerous job—cutting down a large pine tree without following clear industry safety guidelines—set this unfortunate chain of events in motion. A non-involved worker on the ground was struck by debris from the falling tree and suffered a severe injury to his spine.
The defendant tree service company challenged liability, causation, and damages at trial. In closing arguments, Sprouse spent approximately fifteen minutes discussing proximate cause with the jury. Within three hours, the jury returned the largest known verdict in the venue’s history.
The Case against the Defendant Trucking Company: $3 million
This negligence case against a motor carrier concerned injuries the plaintiff sustained while attempting to retrieve a spare tire. The plaintiff fell several feet from the back of the truck he drove for the defendant and sustained serious injuries (including a fractured thoracic spine, which required surgery) and around $150,000 in related medical bills. After working his entire adult life until the injury, it is unlikely that the plaintiff will ever be able to return to work as a truck-driver.
Using expert testimony and the company’s own policies as evidence of what amounts to reasonable care in this particular setting, the plaintiff’s attorneys argued that the defendant fell below the degree of care the circumstances demanded. Specifically, the motor carrier’s shortcomings included failing to provide reasonably safe and adequate equipment for the job and ignoring the plaintiff’s requests for assistance.
The defendant contested liability, proximate cause, and damages. The jury apportioned 90 percent of fault to the defendant and 10 percent to the plaintiff. After apportionment, the court’s judgment reflected damages in favor of the plaintiff at $2.7 million.
Recognizing that an advocate’s job includes bringing life to otherwise cold, lifeless jury charges, Sprouse sought guidance from other experts in the field. “Before each trial, we recognized the need to untangle at least one dangerously complicated legal concept,” Sprouse said. “Having a clear explanation of proximate cause was critical in securing these multimillion-dollar wins for two deserving people.”
Sprouse credits Trial Guides author and trial attorney, Edward P. Capozzi, for developing and explaining methods to simplify important legal issues. “Ed Capozzi rescued the definition of proximate cause from the legal jargon that most people instinctively reject.” Although Sprouse did not use a physical domino demonstration at trial, the team relied on the concept of dominos throughout the trial and again used the concept during closing arguments.
Using technology and visual diagrams at trial, the plaintiff’s lawyers reminded the jury of a chain-reaction they’ve all seen before. All it took was a few photos of dominos collapsing in one unbroken sequence. Imagination and memory did the rest; the jury got it.
“During jury selection, we asked everyone whether they agreed that, to many working adults, a job can give us a sense of enjoyment—a sense of belonging and pride,” Sprouse said. “We returned to some of the juror’s answers on that topic during closing.” It appears that the jurors placed a value on that item of damages. “I think one of the most important—often overlooked—things to do as a trial lawyer is to work hard to truly empathize with all the parties, all the witnesses, all the jurors, and the court,” Sprouse said.
Capozzi’s The Domino Theory does not pose as a quick fix or simple guide to winning cases. Like many great trial lawyers, Capozzi leaves readers with a reminder to study the work of other lawyers but also remain true and work on your own style: “Write your own book,” Capozzi says. “It’s something we’ll continue to work on,” Sprouse added. “I don’t think we’ll ever stop studying the work of other good lawyers.”