Trial Tactics from Jesse Wilson, David Ball lead to $60 Million TBI Verdict

Congratulations to John Carpenter and his team at Carpenter Zuckerman for securing a phenomenal $60 million verdict on behalf of their injured client in Doyle vs. Colglazier, Case No. RIC1806905. Carpenter used lessons from Jesse Wilson’s Witness Preparation, as well as David Ball on Damages, to achieve this outcome.

In a conversation with Izarra Varela Moore, a member of Trial Guides' editorial team, Carpenter discussed the legal challenges of jury selection in hostile jurisdictions and the value of visual representation to demonstrate economic and noneconomic damages. He also talked about the significance of storytelling in legal cases, emphasizing how it guides lawyers to helping their clients tell the truth, prepare them for testifying, and humanize their case before their jury. Carpenter underscored the importance of recognizing the plaintiff's needs and goals, and stressed the need to keep a level head during jury selection to avoid bias.

The Case

This personal injury case involved a 15-year-old boy who suffered a severe traumatic brain injury in a motor vehicle accident. The plaintiff’s stepbrother, who was driving the car, rear-ended a tractor-trailer truck on the freeway. The side of the truck struck the plaintiff, fracturing his skull and causing severe brain damage.

Carpenter described a six-year legal battle with an unusually recalcitrant insurance defense response, even as his client has lived in hospice care in the eight years since the catastrophic injury. The case was tried in Riverside County, California, a notoriously hostile area for plaintiff verdicts.


The Trial

Carpenter used a combination of Jesse Wilson’s “victim to victor” framework in telling his client’s story, pairing it with a reimagining of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs as it pertains to his client’s life goals. Finally, Carpenter used a novel economic modeling approach that visually depicts economic and noneconomic damages over time. (This revolutionary new method will be the subject of a future webinar; watch this space for more information.)

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Carpenter made use of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs when describing what his client wanted in his life. “This was a very effective tool that I'd never used before,” he explains. “It gave us a framework to celebrate the things he could still do, while still showing the goals left ahead, for instance being able to wash his chest by himself, or lift his head up when his name is called. The fact that these [simple tasks] are his goals speaks volumes.” 

Wilson’s “Victim to Victor” Approach

Carpenter took care to portray his client as relatable, complete with hopes, dreams, and frailties just like any other person. He discussed how his client went through puberty, how he had crushes on some of his nurses (even though he can't speak), and how his personality continues to develop, even after eight years in hospice care. Carpenter took care to incorporate Jesse Wilson’s “victim to victor” approach, as outlined in Witness Preparation, in discussing his client’s abilities.

Removing the Mask: Transforming Your Client From Victim to Victor - On Demand - Trial Guides

Watch Jesse Wilson's Removing the Mask: Transforming Your Client from Victim to Victor, an on-demand video from Trial Guides.

Longitudinal Economic Modeling

Finally, Carpenter drew from his undergraduate background in economics to model economic and noneconomic damages over time. Carpenter used a life-care plan of $9.9 million to maintain the injured person at the capacity of a three year old, emphasizing that if he doesn't get it, he will die. He used a graph to show a logarithmic trajectory, starting from birth, that represents his client’s expected happiness and fulfillment over time:


Image by John Carpenter.

Carpenter drew a hypothetical “quality of life” line from date of birth, assuming it would go up and then taper off towards the end of expected life. At the moment of the accident (4/24/2016), his client’s quality of life drops to the level where it was when he was a child, and is likely to stay there until his death (forecasted at 41 years of age). The red rectangle represents economic damages ($9.9 million); the blue shaded area above it and to the right represents noneconomic damages, which extend to the client’s full life expectancy (75 years). This was an elegant way of showing not just the daily burden of economic damages, but the vast noneconomic costs, as well. 

The defense put up a strong fight throughout the proceedings. They first tried to argue that the plaintiff was too injured to benefit from long-term disability care and noneconomic damages. Then, as Carpenter began talking about all the ways his plaintiff is still able to feel joy, the defense switched tactics, saying that he didn’t deserve damages because he’s already doing fine. At the time, the 23-year-old plaintiff had been in hospice care for over eight years, nearly a third of his life.

The Verdict

The jury rendered a $59,913,928.32 verdict, with damages assessed as follows:

Trial Guides Titles in Action

Carpenter credits two Trial Guides titles with reaching this outstanding outcome:

Witness Preparation: How To Tell The Winning Story - Trial Guides

Jesse Wilson’s Witness Preparation: How To Tell The Winning Story is available in paperpack, ebook, and audiobook read by the author.

See more from Jesse Wilson here.


Carpenter has personally worked with Trial Guides author Jesse Wilson on several cases for many years. “I believe in using theater techniques in trial work,” he explains. “It’s a big leap of faith. In the moment, it can feel like you're minimizing your damages, but I always focus on stories of joy, rather than misery, to maximize recovery for my clients. It’s scary, but it helps.” He believes in pursuing the truth of our common experience to lift the bias many jurors have against awarding noneconomic damages in his personal injury cases. For him, that starts with telling stories of joy and triumph.

Carpenter sees Wilson’s work as instrumental in bringing justice to people. “Jesse's use of the tools of theater are really effective, both for developing the themes of your case and for preparing your clients to testify. He helps your clients to tell the truth in a compelling way. He invites us to celebrate the small victories of our clients in a way that resonates with our jurors.”

David Ball on Damages 3 - Trial Guides

David Ball on Damages is available in paperback and ebook.
See more from David Ball here.

The work of David Ball is also among Carpenter’s most valuable Trial Guides media. “I went to a David Ball seminar about 20 years ago, and read David Ball on Damages.” This book became a cornerstone in Carpenter’s decades of successful trial practice. “I still use Damages all the time,” he says. “I can almost recite it by heart.”

About John Carpenter

Headshot from Carpenter & Zuckerman website. 

John Carpenter has been a practicing jury trial lawyer for nearly thirty years, with more than $100 million awarded through his work for individuals with life-altering injuries. “I pride myself on trying tough but meritorious cases,” he says. In 2017, he was nominated for “Attorney of the Year” by the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles (CAALA), among other accolades. He lives in California.