On the way out of a photo booth set up for a “Mother’s Day” event at a restaurant, Linda Maher tripped and fell, hitting her head on the corner of a wall.

Her lawyer sued and asked a jury for $11 million. But defense attorney Casey Quillen had come prepared: She filed a motion in limine to prevent Maher’s lawyer from using what she called “reptile theory” strategies at trial. Defense attorneys say plaintiffs attorneys use the theory to incite jurors’ survival instincts, emotions and fears by appealing to their “reptilian brains,” often in reference to safety or community concerns. They do this to obtain larger, and often unexpected, jury awards, sometimes referred to as “nuclear” verdicts, defense attorneys say.

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