We all read about attacks on our civil justice system. Tort reformers are consistently out there trying to influence the public and prejudice them against our current tort system.
One of the most well known cases tort reformers use in support of the argument that our system needs to be reformed is the McDonald’s “hot coffee” case. This case consistently comes up for discussion during jury selection in a civil jury case. Most jurors have heard something about the case, but do not know all of the facts. The tort reformers promote the fact that someone received an extraordinarily high verdict for spilling hot coffee on themselves. At first blush, the verdict seems outrageous and is an example of a runaway jury, and the need to regulate our jury system. Tort reformers have jumped on this case as a good example in support of their arguments for tort reform.
As a trial lawyer who regularly tries cases, I am always faced with the issue of whether to try to inform jurors more fully about the “hot coffee” case in order to let them know there are additional facts and circumstances, they need to know or to let the jurors discuss their knowledge leave it at that.
We know that a lawyer is not going to change a juror’s strong held beliefs during a jury selection process, and we also know that it is not a good practice to appear to be attempting to debate or argue with a juror. Therefore, we always look for a middle ground, which is simply to try to put in the juror’s minds that there might be “more there” in some of the cases they read about that they believe is an example of a verdict that shows our jury system is broken and needs repair.
Tonight, June 27, 2011 at 9:00 p.m., HBO is going to have a documentary entitled “Hot Coffee“, which is going to discuss the famous McDonald’s case. In this documentary, the truth will be set forth about the case.
The documentary will explain how tort reformers took advantage of the timely jury verdict in the McDonald’s case which resulted in a verdict of 2.86 Million Dollars. People were in disbelief that someone could be awarded millions of dollars for simply spilling coffee on themselves. The tort reformers jumped on this because it was a particularly good time for the tort reformers to take the offensive since there was a growing movement in America for tort reform, mainly as a result of propaganda from the insurance companies. The tort reformers of course did not reveal all of the facts and circumstances of the case, including the fact that the actual award was reduced by a judge to $640,000.00 and then to a smaller amount during the appeal based on a settlement.
The actual basis for finding McDonald at fault in the case is discussed during the documentary, as well as how the tort reformers jumped on this case and used it as propaganda in support of tort reform without revealing all of the facts of the case.
This is a critical documentary for everyone to watch, and for lawyers to encourage as many people as possible to watch. It will reveal the truth behind a case that resulted in wide spread use as a sword for tort reformers in their battle to revamp our jury system.
While it is true there are jury verdicts that can be questioned, it is still the best system in the world. There will be imperfections in any systems, but our current system is far greater than allowing an arbitrary limit on the amount a jury can award after hearing all of the evidence.
Our firm continues to be cruise ship and safety advocates for crewmembers and passengers harmed at sea, and we continue to fight against any artificial caps or limitations on the amount of money an individual can receive as compensation for being injured or harmed at sea due to the fault of another.