The “Reptile Theory” is a trial strategy based on themes and arguments that the jury has the power to improve their safety and the safety of family members and of the community by rendering a verdict that will reduce or eliminate “dangerous” or “unsafe” conduct. The tactic is based on a book by David Bell and Don Keenan, “Reptile: The 2009 Manual of the Plaintiff’s Revolution,” taught in plaintiff’s trial advocacy courses throughout the country. The basic idea is that a plaintiff’s attorney must show, “the immediate danger of the kind of thing the defendant did, and how fair compensation can diminish that danger within the community.”
In Turner v. Salem, et al., involved a wrongful death claim arising from a collision between 2000 Ford Explorer and a 2000 Freightliner tractor-trailer on Northbound I-77 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Defendants moved in limine to prohibit “Reptile theory examinations, responses or arguments” including that they posed a general threat to the safety of the community or public and that the jury should decide the case based on fear or other emotions. Plaintiffs opposed the motion, contending “a general ban on any Reptile theory examinations, responses or arguments is undefined, unworkable, and unsupported by any legal authority[.]”
The trial court ultimately deferred ruling, briefly stating that it, “discourages Reptile Theory arguments, but will handle objections to statements purported to be Reptile Theory arguments as the need arises.” Turner v. Salem, 2016 WL 4083225, *3 (W.D.N.C. July 29, 2016).
Postscript: Following trial, the jury returned a defense verdict.