Personal Injury as Tragedy

Having learned from Simon Rifkind all trials are plays, (See Lessons from Simon Rifkind), I sought a theatrical formula appealing to audiences over time that mirrors a personal injury case. The type of play that fits a personal injury case is tragedy. Research reveals Aristotle in Poetics sets forth what has become the classic formula of tragedy.

Plato and Aristotle argue10223276_Sd on whether the study of tragedy was worth a philosopher’s time. Plato maintained all theater including tragedy is simply entertainment that does not rise to the level of interest to a philosopher. Aristotle disagreed. Aristotle argued tragedy at the highest level involved the audience. The audience sees the tragic plot in cause and effect sequences that mirror universal truth. In high level tragedy two things happen to members of the audience. First, they pity the tragic hero. Second, they fear the tragic result (the adversity) could happen to them. Aristotle maintains when this occurs the audience experiences a cathartic event – a purification or spiritual renewal.


Applied to a personal injury case, when it is tried at the highest level, the jury identifies with the plaintiff and pities the tragic result dealt plaintiff. The jury also fears the result could happen to them. The catharsis occurs in the verdict as the jury rights the wrong in the only way this can be done as jurors.

It is important to note true tragedy is not staged or made up. As taught by Aristotle it represents reality. Tragedy happens in life. People recognize tragedy and if possible want to remedy tragedy. This is why it makes sense for a personal injury lawyer to study the dynamics of tragedy. When these dynamics are present in we have a case worthy of the production of a trial.

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