Beginning the complaint with a bang - the case synopsis
We are changing the way we read. Short has not just become better. It has become essential in the quest to capture the attention of our audience.
Pedantic legal writing is no longer highly valued by judges. With crushing case loads, our Honors need us to get right to the point. They impose page limits on us. And even then, will sometimes admit they haven't read our pleadings.
On the other hand, we have legal formalities that must be followed. And certain loaded legal phrases have precedential import and meaning. For example we can't just say - we are suing X. We need to deal with our state's community property laws and so say: "X and Y are husband and wife, the acts and omissions of X alleged herein were done for an on behalf of the marital community of..."
One of the most important lessons I learned in high school journalism, was to grab the reader's attention immediately. Not half way down the article. Not with subtlety. But meaningfully. With oomph.
This lesson applies in litigation. In complaints and motions of any length, I include a preamble or synopsis. This writing device helps to frame the issues. It is reader friendly. And assists with digesting the numbers of details that must follow. If a judge is swamped and cannot read the entire document, knowing they have at least read that first initial preamble gives me some solace.
Here is the synopsis used in a medical negligence complaint. The synopsis is 1 page long. The complaint totals 14 pages.
Hospitals and their staff are in the business of diagnosing and treating emergency medical conditions. This is what they are trained, expected, and paid to do.
27 year-old Heather Spriggs had been in the Grays Harbor Community Hospital before. She was a survivor of childhood lymphoma and had ongoing health issues most likely related to the treatment of the cancer.
Around 5:00 a.m., October 27, 2011, Heather was taken to the ER with a new problem. Her legs were painful, without pulse, and cool to touch. She had difficulty walking. The ER doctor assumed this was related to congestive heart failure and did not call in a specialist to address her leg complaints. The physician’s assistant jumped to the completely wrong conclusion that her complaints were related to neuralgia (nerve irritation) and did not call in a specialist.
Heather was placed in a hospital bed and then left without further medical care until she went into cardiac arrest at 9:30 that night. Not until 8:15 the next morning did a doctor examine her legs at which point he noted they were beginning to turn black. Only then was a vascular specialist called in to see Heather.
By then it was too late. The specialist opined that Heather had suffered a cardio-embolic event involving her legs. Since she was now in acute multi-organ failure, the specialist could not perform an operation to save her legs. She was flown to UW Hospital where her legs were both amputated above the knee.
If Grays Harbor Community Hospital had taken the time and used proper care to diagnose and treat Heather, she would have both legs today. She would not have suffered the devastating consequences associated with the infarctions in her legs and multi-organ failure.
Complaint: Amended complaint