Is "health and safety" really your top priority?

Sean Murphy - Litigation Psychology

Companies that have been saying, “your health and safety is our first priority” in response to the novel coronavirus crisis may want to reconsider their messaging.

At issue is a common plaintiffs’ strategy known as the “reptile attack,” where attorneys use sophisticated psychological methods to take a company’s broad “health and safety” claims and turn them into liability and damages.


How the Reptile Strategy Works

The reptile attack is a pattern of questioning used on deposition and trial witnesses to ultimately force an admission of fault. It starts with stage-setting questions that form the basis of liability, such as:

·         “Safety is your top priority, right?”

·         “You have an obligation to ensure safety, right?”

·         “You have a duty to put safety first, correct?”

The questioning continues through different phases until the witness is cornered into acknowledging they didn’t do everything possible to ensure both health and safety—and therefore did not keep their commitments.

Of course, there are methods to combat the reptile strategy on the stand, but why put an organization in jeopardy in the first place?


Effective Crisis Communications

A plethora of companies across major industries, including banks, cell phone providers, retailers, hotels and airlines, have led their crisis response with the “health and safety is our top priority” message. It’s almost as if they Googled what other companies were saying and copied the script.

There are effective ways to respond to a crisis that demonstrate leadership. Read our story in Directors & Boards to learn more.