Structuring the Settlement Documentary: The “Onion Theory”

The Onion Theory of Settlement Documentaries

A great settlement documentary is multifaceted, and consists of layer upon layer of information, much like the layers of an onion. As you scratch one surface, another reveals itself.


Day In the Life Video

Let’s start with a basic Day-In-The-Life video. We see the plaintiff’s struggles and the help he requires day-in and day-out. These include dressing, wheelchair transfers, grooming, meals, transportation, therapies, and so on. We have the images, but no real explanation of what we’re watching.

Witness Interviews

Rather than watching the video with no commentary, it is more effective to hear the voices of family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers as they describe the day-to-day struggles that we see unfolding in the Day-In-The-Life video. These narrations are compelling, but we still lack any background of what is medically wrong with the plaintiff.

Medical Statement

Wouldn’t it be nice to preface the Day-In-The-Life video with a medical statement from the treating surgeon? She’ll appear on-camera and describe the diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis of the client. All the while, she’ll refer to x-rays, MRIs, anatomical models, and medical illustrations to educate the viewer about the nature of the plaintiff’s injury, as well as the exact mechanics of the injury’s cause, and the reason for the subsequent surgeries.


Keeping in mind that “contrast” is the powerhouse that defines our non-economic damages, we also need to provide a baseline so that we can compare the injury to the plaintiff’s pre-morbid condition. Let’s put in a segment which clearly and convincingly communicates the plaintiff’s life prior to the injury. This segment is presented through interviews with those who know the plaintiff best, and is illustrated through family snapshots, home movies, and professional awards.

Tying it all together

Finally, we need to come up with a way to get the adjuster’s attention immediately, from the beginning. You’ve gathered liability reports, police photos, and witness statements. Let’s put them together into a short segment which explains why the defendant is responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries.


Structuring a Settlement Documentary using the Onion Theory

We have taken all these elements, layer upon layer, and combined them into an easy-to-watch documentary that not only tells the viewer, but shows the viewer, much of the evidence that will be presented at trial.


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