Where You Are Losing Leverage With Preponderance
Preponderance is one major foundation of all civil lawsuits. If jurors truly made their decisions on the basis of more likely right than wrong for liability AND damages, there would be many more plaintiffs verdicts. David Ball has done wonderful work in his Damages books teaching attorneys how to weave preponderance into a case from voir dire through closing but there may be one major area where you’re missing the leverage preponderance gives you.
My father is a neuropsychiatrist. He has been deposed before and testified at trial. Recently he was deposed about a prior patient of his. Afterward, we had a discussion about preponderance. He told me that the attorney asked if various things were more likely true than not, a phrase he has become very familiar with after listening to me talk, but that the meaning of the phrase never really sunk in. When he was hesitating on a question, the attorney asked if it was just 50.001% true and it clicked – more likely than not means only 50.001% – and he quickly answered the question that of course it was at least that probable! When I asked what he thought “more likely than not” meant, he said it obviously did mean 50.001% but that without the percentage being directly pointed out to him and without time to really sit and think about the meaning of the phrase, it just meant a lower standard than “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In asking a few other doctors about their perceptions, I got the same answers.
You may be losing ground with your own experts as well as cross-exam of the defense experts if you are not clearly pointing out that “more likely than not” means 50.0001%. While it’s obvious that the phrase can mean nothing more than that, I’m finding that many people do not think hard enough to put it in those terms. Make sure to explain what it means in percentage terms and if a witness is waivering, remind them that it only means 50.001%.