The scenario is this: After a serious accident, parents of a disabled child have decided to sue four different “responsible” parties to the accident. All four parties have agreed to hold the trial in a single case, so there are four different defendants in the case. The different defendants are often at cross-purposes, so it doesn't amount to a four-against-one case for the plaintiff. The plaintiff's attorneys are charged with winning at least a $10 million judgment for their clients.
Witness and attorney profile sheets and instructions
Judge profile sheet
Map to Mass. State Social Studies Standards and Common Core Standards
This mock trial is an accordion trial: I've done it with as few as nine students, and as many as 31 students. For trials with small classes, I have drawn my juries from study hall volunteers, a larger “outside audience” which adds an incentive for students in my classes to take the trial seriously. Alternatively, you could just have a bench trial where the judge decides the case. There are certain witnesses that can be eliminated or consolidated for smaller classes, and they are marked as such below, and you can adjust the number of attorneys on each side from 1-3 based upon the class size. With five sides (four defendants and one plaintiff), that's a lot of flexibility. In a small class where the students want the optional witnesses, as teacher I've testified as those witnesses. In a pinch, that can happen with a witness who is sick/absent from class.
The goal of this mock trial is to teach students how civil trials work, what joint and several liability is, and what compensatory and punitive damages are. I've deliberately crafted the case to have the most responsible party – the driver of the car – to be practically indigent for the purposes of the lawsuit. In the end, most juries (whether you use students in your classroom, students from study hall, or have a student decide as judge) will find the driver mostly responsible and one or more other parties responsible to a lesser degree. It's always fun in the post-verdict wrap-up discussion in class to see students' reactions to how their verdict was skewed by joint and several liability. They are surprised to find that their decision to have the driver of the car to pay out $5 million or more has been almost entirely transferred to to a financial liability for the brake company or Maserati for payment.
Incidentally, I first created this mock trial for my Street Law civics class in 2009, about a year before a similar claim that was made against some Toyota brake pads hit the press. I suppose it's another case of life imitating fiction. I should add a general disclaimer: Although some companies used in this court case are real, none of the events described below are real or intended to represent actual historical events. I actually think Maserati is a cool brand.
Note: This mock trial is included in my book "Primary Source American History," along with The Case of the Stolen Pocket Watch mock trial (criminal), 80 primary source U.S. History readings, a mock congress and several dozen projects review worksheets. If you like this (or the free readings on my store), consider getting the complete set for a little bit more.