When Things Just Don’t Figure…


We are often confronted with confusing and conflicting technical data and statistics in confronting experts of all sorts. A few well chosen quotes or analogies can often be used with juries to debunk or blunt the impact of such testimony. Here are a few suggestions to add to your trial tactics bag of tricks:

1. Bomb Threat: (Use this story to illustrate the care that needs to be taken with statistics.) With the increase in terrorism at home and abroad, Mike worried about the risk of there being a bomb being planted on one of the many flights that he takes. His concern became so great that he begged a statistician to work out the probability of there being a bomb on any one plane. After some research his statistician came up with a result which, although very small, still gave Mike some concern. After a moment of thought, Mike requested the statistician to work out the probability of there being two bombs aboard a flight. It turned out that the risk of this happening was miniscul — so Mike decided to always take a bomb on board with him. Mike was arrested at last week at JFK Airport.

2. There three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics. Mark Twain.

3. Figures don’t lie, but liars figure. Mark Twain.

4. “Statistics show that very few of those who contract the habit of eating, survive.” Wallace Irwin.

5. President Dwight Eisenhower expressed astonishment and alarm on discovering that fully half of all Americans had below average intelligence. Similarly, some people get fearful when they learn that their doctor wasn’t in the top half of his class. (But that’s half of them.)

6. A defense attorney using statistics to explain away a plaintiff’s untimely and unexpected demise argued:

“Your honor and ladies and gentlemen of the jury. Research has established that 90% of individuals involved in similar accidents survive. Accordingly, we must conclude that in spite of the evidence of lack of respiration, heartbeat, and brain wave activity, and in spite of the unfortunate burial of the decedent, in my expert opinion I conclude that he did not really die, and therefore the plaintiff estate cannot recover.”


About Richard A. Cook

Richard Cook graduated from Purdue University in the Economics Honor Program in 1979 and obtained his Juris Doctor degree from Valparaiso University School of Law in 1982. Following law school, Richard served as a federal law clerk in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division. In 1984, Richard began working as Deputy Prosecutor for the Lake County Prosecutor's Office and from there, served as Assistant U. S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division. There he handled a number of complex criminal matters and jury trials. While there, Richard received the Chief Postal Inspector's Special Award and a letter of commendation from the U.S. Attorney General for his work prosecuting a major money order fraud scheme being perpetrated out of the Indiana State Prison system. Since leaving the U.S. Attorney's office in 1989, Richard has focused primarily on civil work and is currently a member of the firm Yosha Cook & Tisch in Indianapolis. Richard is also a member of the ITLA, IBA and the ABA, as well as, a fellow for the American College of Trial Lawyers. He is AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell.

Posted on May 9, 2013, in closing arguments and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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