“Hot Coffee” lawsuit comes up again in jury selection in Mississippi.

Over the last month, I’ve had the pleasure of being involved in two civil trials in Mississippi.  One was in extremely conservative Lee county in northeast Mississippi and the other in the moderate, yet conservative, Oktibbeha County in east central Mississippi.  The jurors that took the time to show up were from all walks of life, age, races, etc. and represented an excellent cross section of the people in this great state.  Both times I felt we picked great people to serve as fact finders in our case.  In both cases, the other side was represented by attorneys paid for by famous insurance companies.  One is owned by a famous billionaire who openly supports Hillary Clinton for president and for higher capital gains taxes.  The other is famous for its cute and funny television commercials.  You know, like “Hump daaaayyeeee.”  You get the idea. Its famous mascot looks a lot like the animal pictured at the end of this post.

Anyway, I’ll admit that my perspective is from that of a Plaintiff, or the person suing someone else for money, and that my take on this is probably biased in many respects. However, I began my legal career as a defense attorney, representing insurance companies, doctors, medical clinics and hospitals.  In other words, entities with excellent connections to the powerful political classes that run this state and the federal government. (Specifically, the state legislature, governor, lieutenant governor, and the former governors and former US Senators from Mississippi who are now lobbyists for all sorts of people with lots of money. And I mean LOTS of money.)

In both trials, during jury selection, the jury members identified the ideal candidate for a “frivolous lawsuit” as the “McDonalds Hot Coffee case” or similar description.  The jurors thought that there were “too many lawsuits” generally and the system was especially out of control as evidenced by the Hot Coffee case. It is amazing how that case remains the knee-jerk response anytime someone brings up the subject of frivolous lawsuits generally even thought it took place over 20 years ago.

The case that people are referring to is formally known as Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants that arose out of the Northern District of New Mexico in 1994.  The jury awarded 160,000 for compensatory damages (to cover medical expenses) but awarded 2.4 million dollars in punitive damages “because of the company’s callous disregard for the safety of the people.” Ms. Liebeck offered to settle the case for $20,000, but McDonalds offered her $800 in response.  The punitive damages were later reduced to three times the compensatory damages, but that fact is often not mentioned by the media.

It would shock most people to read what actually happened in the case.  The photos are even more difficult too look at.  Basically, the 79 year old received 3rd degree burns over 6 percent of her body that required skin-graft surgery.  She spent 8 days in the hospital, even though she was wearing clothing over the parts of her body where she was burned. For the full story, visit http://www.hotcoffeethemovie.com  or if you don’t trust that read a summary from the trial record.

So, the powerful have done a great job convincing people in Mississippi that there are too many “frivolous” lawsuits in our state.  Great job.  Here is the reality:  Despite years of tort reform, Mississippi still remains at the lower end of prosperity when compared to the rest of the country.  Nothing has changed thanks to tort reform, except the well connected have another means to lure businesses to the state without any reasonable fear of having to change careless behavior should someone sue them. When I was a defense attorney, one  insurance company refused to settle any case under any circumstances.  If a patient had been a victim of medical malpractice, then they were going to have to sue and wait years for any recovery.  The message it wanted to send was  “Don’t even bother trying, even if you are in the right, because we will litigate you into oblivion rather than pay a dime to a Plaintiff.”  Needless to say, that was a great marketing tool when it came time to sell malpractice policies to doctors and hospitals.

Our rights are under attack in this country from all sides.  The Fourth Amendment has been practically tossed aside in many instances in the name of doing anything to assist law enforcement and the lost war on drugs.  Look at the Department of Justice’s report on Ferguson, Missouri and you’ll wonder if the US even has a 4th amendment.  Law enforcement always complains anytime there is a decision upholding the 4th amendment as being “against the  Police” or “Blue Lives Matter” or simply that you are protecting “criminals.”

The Second Amendment is under attack by the regressive left (RL) and media as being the sole and proximate cause of every mass shooting in the US.   Make no mistake, Hillary Clinton and her allies intend to reduce the number of guns in the USA by any means necessary.  If you take her at her word (that she supports an individual right to gun ownership) you are either in league with the RL, extremely naive, or both. Most in the local newspapers (print or online) just repeat the catch phrases from the DNC talking points without even bothering to check for accuracy. Print journalism is dead, and you can smell the stench.

The concept of freedom of expression and dissent found in the First Amendment is being attacked by the Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) of the RL and the mass media.  Try to take a position opposite of a SJW at your local institution of “higher learning” (and I use that term loosely) and, if you are lucky, you will be only asked to leave and not physically assaulted as was the case of Professor Glick (the assailant) at the University of Missouri  or Milo Yiannopoulos (the victim) by Black Lives Matter at Depaul University in Chicago.  (give ’em hell Milo!)

Of course, the First Amendment has long been sacrificed at the alter of abortion. The Supreme Court has special rules where protesters must be when they are demonstrating outside the local Kermit Gosnell Center for Reproductive Rights (KGCRR).  The irony is that a right that is not mentioned at all in the Constitution (even if you define it as a general right of “privacy”) can be used to limit the one fundamental right that is essential to an open and free exchange of ideas in a modern, forward looking, country like the USA.  That still boggles the mind.

So folks, the right to a jury trial in a civil case is not as glamorous or entertaining as the other rights that are at the forefront:  Ferguson, intolerant SJWs, triggering, micro-agressions, private gun ownership, abortion, religious inspired violence, etc.   Unfortunately this right has been taken away from us while we slept.  You probably don’t even realize its gone.

Here is a quote that explains why juries are one of the last places justice cannot be unduly influenced by the political classes of the right and left:

Sometimes we forget how incredibly important the civil justice system is to our democracy. Juries are free from the influence of corporate lobbyists who wine and dine legislators and regulators. Often, corporations that may have otherwise blocked regulatory duties have been forced to change their practices because of lawsuits brought by everyday people. Unfortunately, due to immense corporate pressure, state legislatures across the country have been enacting tort restrictions at a furious pace, overturning state laws that for generations have afforded injured Americans the right and the means to obtain compensation and to hold wrongdoers accountable for the harm they cause.

Joanne Doroshow, The Huffington Post, June 26, 2011. (Watch Hot Coffee, a powerful new Film on HBO on June 27).

I couldn’t have said it better.  I wish I could make the normal people who show up for jury duty understand how they have been hoodwinked by politicians of all political stripes. I guess being a libertarian who can’t stand the religious right or the regressive left SJWs has its downside. I don’t have access to the powerful interests on either side.

It’s just the other sides sure do pay better. Just remember that when you’re watch those cute commercials that cost millions of dollars to produce.  Remember, you can’t trust lizards.

Image result for picture of green animals

James P. Tinsley, Esq.