Includes tips, the strategic plan, a detailed outline, and witness examination questions.

By Donald E. Woody

Excerpted from Personal Injury Trial Notebook

In planning the specific examination of witnesses, both on direct and cross, it is helpful to first lay out a plan of what you hope to accomplish with the particular witness after reviewing in detail what ways the witness helps or hurts your case.

Once that has been accomplished, you should prepare a detailed examination outline that essentially establishes about what you expect the witness to testify. The author prefers to use only this detailed outline to actually examine the witness and to simply let the description from the outline dictate the specific form of the questions the witness is asked at trial in an impromptu fashion without attempting to “script” the specific questions in advance. The words to form the questions at the time of trial will naturally flow from the specific point counsel hopes to establish. See Chapter 7, Direct Examination, and Chapter 8, Cross-Examination, for more details.

§20:01  Overview

Facts: This plaintiff, a 40 year old male, was involved in a two-vehicle collision in which he was rear ended by a delivery truck while stopped at a signal. The plaintiff sustained injuries to his back and right leg.

Following are:

  • A strategic direct examination plan [§20:02].
  • A sample detailed direct examination outline [§20:03].
  • Sample direct examination questions of a plaintiff [§20:04].
  • Exhibits [§20:05].

The detailed direct examination outline and sample direct examination questions are summarized and categorized by essential topics. Medical expenses as well as effects on life activities accompany this chapter as exhibits 104, 108, 109, and 110.

§20:02  Strategic Direct Examination Plan

The plaintiff is probably the most important of plaintiff counsel’s witnesses in this personal injury case. The plan on direct examination of the plaintiff is to humanize the plaintiff and the plaintiff’s family; educate the jury about the witness’s good character; and provide the jury with all the essential facts necessary to ultimately make a submissible case. Additional goals are to win the hearts and minds of the jurors in plaintiff’s favor on the theme of the case; educate the jurors on the devastating effect of plaintiff’s injury on plaintiff’s life; and, above all else, establish the plaintiff’s credibility with the jurors.

Begin by taking the jurors through an introduction to the plaintiff and the plaintiff’s immediate family, including personal details, family and marital status, employment and work history, educational and military background, prior health and physical condition, prior work ethic and habits, prior exercise, activities and hobbies, and prior household services. After that, all the important and relevant details about the collision that establish liability should be developed. Then, the facts about the injury and the medical treatment of the injury should be developed. Next you should move to the medical expenses and loss of work ability, as well as the underlying information to support the past and future wage loss information. Finally, the details of the plaintiff’s current condition and the devastating effect of the injury on the plaintiff, his family, and his entire life should be developed.

§20:03  Detailed Direct Examination Outline

A.      Plaintiff’s Identification

1.       Name.

2.       Address.

3.       Length at address.

4.       Original hometown.

5.       Birth date.

6.       Age.

7.       Plaintiff in case.

B.       Marital and Family Status

1.       Marriage.

2.       Wife’s name.

3.       Presence in courtroom.

4.       Children.

5.       Wife’s employment and job.

6.       Length of wife’s employment.

C.       Employment and Work History

1.       Occupation.

2.       Length of employment.

3.       Whether currently employed and explanation.

4.       Prior occupation and employment.

5.       Training for occupation.

6.       Licensing for occupation.

D.      Educational and Military Service Background

1.       Education.

2.       Explanation on why high school not completed.

3.       Military service and branch.

4.       Years of service.

5.       Honorable discharge.

6.       Rank and title upon discharge from service.

E.       Prior Health and Physical Condition

1.       General health before collision.

2.       Prior back injuries.

3.       Prior back operations.

4.       Prior back pain or problems.

5.       Prior backaches.

6.       Range of motion in back before collision.

7.       Prior back spasms.

8.       Prior right leg pain, numbness, weakness, or problems.

9.       No prior problems walking.

10.     No atrophy in right thigh before collision.

11.     Lack of a limp before collision.

12.     Weight before collision and now.

13.     Pain medications and narcotics before collision.

F.       Prior Work Habits

1.       Amount and frequency of employment.

2.       Work attendance.

3.       Work enjoyment.

4.       Details of jobs.

5.       Length of employment and retirement plans.

6.       Self-evaluation as worker.

7.       Loyalty to employer.

8.       Difficulty of work.

9.       Rate and amount of earnings just prior to collision.

G.      Prior Exercise, Activities, and Hobbies

1.       Regular exercise program before collision.

2.       Details of exercise program—when, where, why, and what.

3.       Marathon running.

4.       Foundation and introduction of photograph of running in marathon.

5.       Relationship of running and military service.

6.       Reason for running.

7.       Fishing details—when, where, why, and what.

8.       Foundation and introduction of fishing photograph.

9.       Boat ownership before collision.

10.     Explanation of use of back and legs in fishing.

11.     Church softball league details.

12.     Foundation and introduction of softball photograph.

13.     Softball enjoyment.

14.     Hunting details—when, where, why, and what.

15.     Relationship of hunting and use of back and right leg.

16.     Family activities—theme park trips.

17.     Family vacation details—when, where, why, and what.

18.     Enjoyment of family activities.

H.      Prior Household Services

1.       Foundation and introduction of summary of prior household services.

2.       Detailed list of prior household services is discussed.

3.       Judgment of number of hours spent a week on household services.

I.        The Collision

1.       Date and time of collision.

2.       Day of the week.

3.       Weather.

4.       Location of collision.

5.       Familiar with accident scene.

6.       Street directions.

7.       Presence of traffic control signals.

8.       Purpose of trip and destination before collision.

9.       Vehicle locations and directions just before collision.

10.     Details of plaintiff’s vehicle.

11.     Prior inspection of plaintiff’s vehicle results.

12.     Equipment on plaintiff’s vehicle functional including rear brake lights.

13.     Plaintiff stopped in traffic just before collision.

14.     Traffic conditions at scene just before collision.

15.     Street conditions.

16.     What plaintiff doing and where looking just before collision.

17.     Plaintiff’s vehicle stopped and foot on brake just at time of collision.

18.     What plaintiff saw and did not hear at time of collision.

19.     What plaintiff observed and did when being hit.

20.     What plaintiff’s body did during collision.

21.     What plaintiff felt when being hit.

22.     Plaintiff could not exit vehicle because of injuries.

23.     Discussions with defendant driver at scene.

24.    Presence of police and discussions heard by plaintiff of defendant driver with policeman.

25.     Assistance by ambulance personnel at scene.

26.     Transportation to hospital.

27.     Foundation and introduction of photographs of car immediately after the accident.

J.        The Hospital

1.       Name of hospital.

2.       What occurred at hospital.

3.       Admission to hospital.

4.       Treatments in hospital.

5.       How plaintiff felt in hospital.

6.       Pain medications in hospital.

7.       Length of hospital stay.

8.       Released to go home.

K.      After the Hospital

1.       Condition when arrived home.

2.       Bedridden at home.

3.       Time out of bed.

4.       How plaintiff felt at home.

5.       Pain medications after hospital.

6.       Visits to doctor.

7.       Medical treatments.

8.       Physical therapy.

9.       Progression of condition of back and right leg.

10.     Progression of pain.

11.     Problems with back and right leg.

L.       Work

1.       Attempts to work after collision.

2.       Inability to perform work.

3.       Currently unable to work.

4.       Desire to work.

5.       Feelings of plaintiff about inability to work.

M.      Medical Expenses

1.       Foundation and identity of medical expense summary and medical bills attached [to be later introduced after medical testimony establishes fairness and reasonableness of bills and their medical necessity].

2.       Payment of medical expenses.

N.      Current Condition

1.       Current condition of back and right leg.

2.       Foundation and introduction of current list of activities plaintiff can no longer engage in since collision.

3.       Detailed discussion of each item on list and why plaintiff can no longer engage in the activity, i.e., running, softball, hunting, riding amusement rides, household services, etc.

4.       Current exercise now instead of running.

5.       Misses running as exercise.

6.       Weight gain due to inactivity.

7.       Foundation and introduction of current list of activities plaintiff can still engage in but with difficulty and why the activity is more difficult—i.e., fishing, family vacations, etc.

8.       How and why the collision has affected the plaintiff’s life.

9.       How injuries have affected plaintiff mentally.

10.     Financial independence before injury.

11.     Ability to care for self and family before injury.

12.     Plaintiff’s best of times now.

13.     Plaintiff’s worst of times now.

§20:04  Detailed Direct Examination Questions

A.      Plaintiff’s Identification

1.       Tell the court and jury who you are, please.

2.       Where do you live?

3.       How long have you lived there?

4.       Where are you from originally?

5.       When were you born?

6.       How old are you now?

7.       Are you the plaintiff in this case?

B.       Marital and Family Status

John, I want to ask you about your family.

1.       Are you married?

2.       Who is your wife?

3.       Is she in the courtroom?

4.       Do you have children?

5.       Tell us briefly about your children.

6.       Who do you live with?

7.       Is your wife employed outside of the home?

8.       Where?

9.       What does she do?

10.     How long has she been employed there?

C.       Employment and Work History

John, I want to ask you about your work history.

1.       What have you done for a living?

2.       How long have you been a plumber?

3.       Are you currently employed?

4.       Why not?

5.       How long had you worked for Acme Plumbing?

6.       Have you always been a plumber your entire adult life?

7.       What did you do before becoming a plumber?

8.       Did you have to go through an apprenticeship to become a plumber?

9.       Tell the jury briefly about that, please.

10.     Are you a licensed plumber?

D.      Educational and Military Service Background

1.       John, what is your education?

2.       Why did you not complete high school?

3.       What branch of the service were you in?

4.       What years did you serve?

5.       Where did you serve?

6.       Were you honorably discharged?

7.       What was your rank and title when you were honorably discharged?

E.       Prior Health and Physical Condition

John, I am going to ask you about your health and physical condition before the collision.

1.       Prior to the collision, how would you describe your general health?

2.       Had you ever injured your back before?

3.      By injury, I am including breaking it, rupturing it, or spraining it. Had you ever done that before?

4.       Had you ever had any operations on your back?

5.       Did you ever have back pains or problems before this collision?

6.       Not even backaches?

7.       Did you have any trouble bending over (demonstrate) and lifting things?

8.      How about your motion in your back, John, such as side to side motion (demonstrate). Could you do that okay?

9.       Could you raise your right and left foot, like this (demonstrate) before your injury?

10.     Did you ever have back spasms before the collision?

11.     How about your right leg, John. Did you ever injure your right leg prior to this injury?

12.     Did you ever experience pain in your right leg before?

13.     Did you ever experience pain and numbness running down your right buttock and right leg?

14.     Did you ever have any weakness in your right leg before?

15.     Did you ever have any trouble walking at all, John?

16.     How about the size of your left and right thighs, John. Were they both the same size?

17.     Did you limp before this collision?

18.     How about your weight, John. How much did you weigh before the collision?

19.     How much do you weigh now?

20.     Did you take any pain medications before the collision?

21.     How about prescription pain medications?

22.     How about any narcotics?

F.       Prior Work Habits and Wages

John, I want to ask you some questions about your work habits before the collision.

1.       With respect to your working at Acme Plumbing before the collision, how much did you work?

2.       How about your attendance record at work. Did you ever miss work due to injury or illness? Not ever?

3.       Did you ever take off just for personal reasons?

4.       Did you enjoy your work with Acme Plumbing before the collision?

5.       Describe what you did.

6.       Before the collision, what were your plans about how long you were going to work before you retired? Did you have any plans? What were they?

7.       Did you consider yourself a good plumber?

8.       Were you loyal to your company?

9.       Was the work you did hard?

10.     At the time you were injured, what were you making as a plumber?

G.      Prior Exercise, Activities and Hobbies

John, I want to turn to your activities and hobbies before the collision.

1.       Before you were injured, did you engage in any regular exercise?

2.       What did you do?

3.       How frequently would you run?

4.       How far would you run?

5.       How did you get into the habit of running early every other morning?

6.       Did you ever run in a marathon?

7.       Tell us about it.

8.       Here is a picture marked Exhibit 101. What is it a picture of? [Exhibit 101 is a photograph of plaintiff running in a marathon race.]

9.       Does it fairly and accurately show you running in the Springfield Marathon?

10.     When did you run in this marathon?

11.     Your Honor, we offer Exhibit 101 into evidence and ask permission to show it to the jury. [Show the picture to the jury.]

12.     Is running something you picked up from the military?

13.     Did you enjoy it or did you just do it to stay healthy?

14.     What other activities would you engage in on a regular basis?

15.     How often would you go fishing?

16.     Who would you go fishing with?

17.     What did you fish for?

18.     Did you ever catch anything?

19.     John, I am handing you Exhibit 102 and will you tell us what it is a picture of? [Exhibit 102 is a photograph of plaintiff with a stringer of fish from one of his fishing trips.]

20.     Does it fairly and accurately show you with fish you caught?

21.     Your Honor, we offer Exhibit 102 into evidence and ask permission to show it to the jury. [Show the photograph to the jury.]

22.     How many fish are shown in the photo?

23.     Did you catch them all or did your friend catch some of them?

24.     Where did you catch them?

25.     Are there any fish still left down at Lake Table Rock?

26.     Would you primarily fish from the bank or from a boat?

27.     Did you own a boat before your injury?

28.     Does fishing involve using your back and legs?

29.     How? Explain that.

30.     What other activities did you engage in before your injury?

31.     How often did you play baseball?

32.     Was this in a church league?

33.     How many years did you play in the church league?

34.     What position did you play?

35.     Were you any good at playing first base?

36.     Were you much of a hitter?

37.     I show you Exhibit 103 and ask you what does this photograph show? [Exhibit 103 is a photograph of plaintiff running to first base.]

38.     Does it fairly and accurately show you playing softball before the collision?

39.     Your Honor, we offer Exhibit 103 into evidence and ask permission to show it to the jury.

[Show the photograph to the jury.]

40.     When was this picture taken that shows you being thrown out at first base?

41.     Did you enjoy playing baseball on the church league team?

42.     Did you do any hunting?

43.     What kind of hunting did you do?

44.     Does hunting involve any physical activity?

45.     Tell us how hunting involves physical activity.

46.     How many times would you go deer hunting in a typical deer hunting season?

47.     What did you do, John, activity-wise with your family?

48.     How often would you go to Silver Dollar City or Six Flags in a given summer?

49.     Did you and your wife and kids enjoy those trips?

50.     Why?

51.     Did you ever take family vacations before the collision?

52.     Where did you go?

53.     Did you enjoy those trips?

H.      Prior Household Services

Let me ask you about family obligations, John.

1.       Did you have certain things that you did around the house for the family before the collision?

2.       What did you do?

3.       John, I hand you Exhibit 104. Can you explain what this is a list of?

[Exhibit 104 is a list of household chores in which plaintiff engaged before the injuries.]

4.      Does this list fairly and accurately show the various household activities you engaged in before the collision?

5.       Your Honor, we offer Exhibit 104 into evidence and ask permission to show it to the jury. [Show exhibit to the jury.]

6.       John, do you have any judgment or estimate as to how many hours a week you would spend doing these family-type obligations around the house?

7.       What is that judgment?

I.        The Collision

Let’s turn to the day of the collision.

1.       What was the date and time of the collision?

2.       Do you recall what day of the week it was?

3.       What was the weather like that day?

4.       Where did the collision occur?

5.      Are you familiar with the intersection of Glenstone and Sunshine streets in Springfield?

6.       How many times have you been there?

7.       Which directions do Glenstone and Sunshine go?

8.       How many lanes does each street have?

9.       Does the intersection have any traffic control signals?

10.     Where are those signals located?

11.     Where were you going prior to the collision?

12.     What were you doing just prior to the collision?

13.     In what direction and on what street were you traveling at the time of the collision?

14.     What were you driving?

15.     What condition was your car in before the collision?

16.     Had your car ever been inspected?

17.     When?

18.     Were there any problems with the car on the day of the collision?

19.     Were your brake lights working on the day of the collision?

20.     How do you know that?

21.     Describe what happened just before the collision.

22.     Was your car moving?

23.     Why had you stopped in traffic?

24.     What were the conditions of the street you were stopped on?

25.     What were traffic conditions like?

26.     Was there a car stopped in front of your car?

27.    How much distance separated the front of your car from the back of the car stopped in front of you?

28.     Where were you looking at the time of the collision?

29.     Did you have your foot on the brake of your car at the time of the collision?

30.     How long had you had your foot on the brake?

31.     How long had you been stopped before the collision?

32.     As you were sitting there stopped, tell us what happened.

33.     Did you hear any noise before the sound of the crash?

34.     Did you hear any tires squealing or screeching before you were hit?

35.     Did you hear any skidding of tires on pavement before you were hit?

36.     Did you hear any squealing of brakes before you were hit?

37.     What was the first thing you noticed as your car was hit?

38.     What happened to your body as your car was hit?

39.     What happened to your car as it was hit?

40.     Were you wearing your seatbelt at the time you were hit?

41.     Did you feel anything as your car was hit?

42.     What did you feel?

43.     What happened next?

44.     Did you get out of your car after you were hit?

45.     Why not?

46.     Then what happened?

47.     Was there a policeman at the scene?

48.     Did he come up to your car while you were sitting in it?

49.     Did he talk to you?

50.     Did the policeman talk to the defendant at the scene?

51.     Did you hear     what the defendant told the policeman?

52.     What did you hear the defendant say?

53.     Did anyone else come up to your car as you were sitting there?

54.     Who came up to your car first?

55.     Did you recognize who it was?

56.     Do you recognize who that person was today?

57.     Who was that person?

58.     Did the defendant say anything to you?

59.     What did he say to you?

60.     Did you say anything in response?

61.     Then what happened?

62.     Did you have to be helped from your car?

63.     Why?

64.     Who helped you?

65.     What did the ambulance attendants do to you at the scene?

66.     Where did you go from the scene?

67.     How did you get to the hospital?

68.     How did you feel on the way to the hospital?

69.     John, I hand you Exhibits 105, 106, and 107 and ask you to tell us what are those photographs of? [Exhibit 105, 106, and 107 are various photographs of plaintiff’s vehicle showing the damage from the collision.]

70.     Do those 3 photographs fairly and accurately show the appearance and condition of your car immediately after the collision?

71.     Your Honor, we offer Exhibits 105, 106, and 107 into evidence and ask permission to show them to the jury.

[Show photographs to jury.]

J.        The Hospital

John, I want to ask you questions about your hospital stay.

1.       What hospital did you go to?

2.       What happened when you reached the hospital?

3.       After you left the emergency room, where did you go next?

4.       Were you admitted to the hospital?

5.       How long were you in the hospital?

6.       What happened while you were in the hospital?

7.       What did you do while you were in the hospital?

8.       How did you feel while you were in the hospital?

9.       Were you feeling any pain?

10.     What pain were you feeling?

11.     Did they give you any pain medication? What?

12.     How did you leave the hospital?

13.     Where did you go from there?

K.      After The Hospital

John, let’s talk now about your condition after you left the hospital.

1.       What did you do when you got home?

2.       How long did you remain in bed at home?

3.       And during that three week period, were you able to do anything?

4.       Were you able to get out of bed?

5.       What did you notice about your back when you would get up?

6.       What did you notice about your right leg when you would get up?

7.       How did you feel during that time?

8.       Did you take any pain medication?

9.       What did you take?

10.     How frequently did you take it?

11.     After going home did you see the doctor again?

12.     Who did you see?

13.     When did you first see him after you left the hospital?

14.     What did the doctor do?

15.     When was the next time you saw Dr. Johnson?

16.     How were your back and right leg feeling at that point?

17.     What did the doctor do on that visit?

18.     Did you start physical therapy?

19.     Where did you go for physical therapy?

20.     Tell us what happened in physical therapy.

21.     How long did you undergo physical therapy?

22.     How were you feeling during that period?

23.     Have your back or right leg ever gotten to be pain-free?

24.     Describe what you feel.

25.     Have you ever gotten full motion back in your back?

26.     What problems do you still have with your back?

27.     How about your right leg? Do you still have problems with your right leg?

28.     What problems do you still have with your right leg?

29.     Did you continue to see Dr. Johnson?

30.     How many times did you see him?

31.     Do you still go back to see him? How frequently?

L.       Work

John, let’s talk a little about the effect this has had on your job.

1.       Did you return to work after the collision?

2.       When did you return to work?

3.       What happened when you went back to work?

4.       How long did you try to work?

5.       Describe what occurred to you physically when you were trying to work.

6.       Did you discuss with Dr. Johnson the problems you were experiencing when you were trying to work?

7.       Were you able to perform your job when you returned to work?

8.       Why not?

9.       John, do you want to be able to go back to work as a plumber at Acme Plumbing?

10.     How do you feel about the fact you haven’t been able to go back to work since June of 2004?

M.      Medical Expenses

John, let’s take a look at your medical expenses from this injury.

1.       I am handing you Exhibit 108. Can you tell me what this is?

[Exhibit 108 is a medical expense summary with the medical bills attached.]

2.      Does this summary fairly and accurately reflect all of the medical expenses you have incurred from this car wreck?

3.       Are all of your medical bills up to today attached to the summary?

4.       Have all of these expenses been paid, to your best knowledge and belief?

         [Wait to introduce the summary and bills into evidence once the foundation has been laid by medical testimony that the expenses are fair and reasonable and the expenses were reasonably necessary to treat the plaintiff for these injuries.]

N.      Current Condition

John, let’s address what the current condition is of your back and your right leg.

1.       What is the condition of your back and right leg now?

2.       Is there anything that you cannot do today that you could do before the injury?

3.       I hand you Exhibit 109. What does this exhibit represent? [Exhibit 109 is a list of activities in which plaintiff can no longer engage.]

4.       Is this a fair and accurate list of all the activities you can’t do now that you could do before the collision?

5.       Your Honor, we offer Exhibit 109 into evidence and ask permission to show it to the jury. [Show the exhibit to the jury.]

6.       John, let’s go through this list and I want to ask you questions about each item listed. [Plaintiff is then asked to describe in detail each item listed as well as an explanation of why the plaintiff cannot do each item listed.]

7.       The first item listed is “running.” Are you no longer able to run?

8.       Have you tried to run?

9.       What has happened when you have tried to run?

10.     What do you do now for exercise?

11.     How does that compare to running?

[Continue to go through each item listed on the exhibit.]

12.     Why do you think you have gained 15 pounds since the collision?

13.     John, are there any activities that you can still do but you have to do them differently, or they are more difficult for you to do since the collision?

14.     John, I am handing you Exhibit 110. What is this a list of? [Exhibit 110 is a list of activities that plaintiff still does but does with difficulty.]

15.     Your Honor, we offer Exhibit 110 into evidence and ask permission to show it to the jury. [Show the exhibit to the jury.]

16.     John, let’s go through this list, and I want to ask you about each item listed. [Plaintiff is then asked to describe in detail each item listed as well as an explanation of why each activity listed is performed differently or with more difficulty.]

17.     The first item listed is “fishing.” Do you have difficulty fishing now?

18.     Why do you have difficulty fishing now?

19.     What do you have to do differently to compensate for this difficulty?

[Continue to go through each item listed on the exhibit.]

20.     John, how has this collision affected your life?

21.     Has this injury affected you mentally?

22.     How has this injury affected you mentally?

23.     John, were you financially independent before this injury?

24.     Were you able to stand on your own two feet before this injury?

25.     Were you fully able to take care of yourself and your family before this injury?

26.     Did you feel there was anything that you couldn’t do for yourself and your family before this injury?

27.     How do you feel about that now?

28.     Why not?

29.     John, tell us about the best times that you have now. What do you enjoy most?

30.     Tell us about your worst times now. What are your worst times now?

Your Honor, we have no further questions at this time.

Donald E. Woody practices in Springfield, Missouri, with Hall, Ansley, Rodgers, and Sweeney, where he represents both plaintiffs and defendants in his trial practice. Mr. Woody specializes in medical malpractice, personal injury, products liability, and business litigation cases, and has won and settled several million-dollar cases in those areas of expertise.

He has written and lectured on numerous trial topics for the state and local trial lawyers associations, and is a former president of the Springfield Area Metropolitan Bar Association.

Mr. Woody is licensed to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, and all Missouri state courts. He received his AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell in 1992. He is a 1973 Order of the Coif graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law, where he was Note and Comment editor.