I have previously blogged about the documentary “Hot Coffee” which was going to air on HBO. I am hopeful that everyone was able to view this fantastic documentary. If not, make sure to view it when it replays.
I organized a gathering of several friends to view the documentary. I also had my family watch it. The reaction from all of the non-legal people who watched it with me was the same. Everyone left with a different view point not only about the McDonald’s hot coffee case, but our civil jury system. This included people who felt there were too many frivolous law suits and tort reform was justified, as well as those who were not advocates of tort reform even though they agreed there are a lot of frivolous lawsuits.
What everyone felt was so compelling were the actual stories of the people who were involved in the cases that got all of the national attention. First, as to the “Hot Coffee” case, the impact of seeing the type of burns suffered by Stella Liebeck immediately resulted in a changed perspective as to the amount of money that was awarded. Everyone immediately had a change in their opinion from thinking that the verdict was totally outrageous and ridiculous to a moment of well…., now I can see why the damages awarded were so high.
Of course, the issue of the liability for someone spilling coffee on themselves was in everyone’s mind. The documentary showed why McDonalds should be held responsible, and everyone left with the conclusion that a verdict against McDonalds was justified with respect to liability. When they were able to see and listen to the actual Plaintiffs in various cases, the people I was with also felt that they did not represent the type of people who appeared to have sued simply to try to get a lot of money. The documentary emphasized how each of the individuals had objectives beyond merely seeking for money. This emphasizes again what we know as good trial lawyers, which is to always to try to convey the message to the jury that there is another underlying purpose or objective to the lawsuit other than simply providing money to the Plaintiff. There is a much greater social goal involved in any type of lawsuit. The documentary emphasized this with each case that it discussed.
I thought that the documentary was excellent in including the other cases that were discussed because it showed the unfairness in having arbitrary caps or limitations on the amount of damages a jury can award. The documentary not only explains how caps on damages can result in harsh consequences to individuals who are deserving of the awards provided by the jury, but the documentary also explained our system of justice in a very understandable way and why the jury should have the unrestricted ability to determine the necessary amount for fair and just compensation.
Lastly, the documentary exposed the tort reformers for what they are. The story about the judge was especially compelling. Everyone at the house watching sympethesized with him and were outraged at the efforts the tort reformers engaged in to destroy his reputation and career.
In conclusion, the group that viewed the documentary with me left with a greater appreciation of the good trial lawyers do for individuals in need, as well as for the system in general. They understand that it is the trial lawyers that have the formidable task of fighting the tort reformers and providing justice to those in need of assistance. The documentary correctly reflects that our system of justice continues to be threatened by big businesses, including the insurance industry. Their enormous power threatens our system of justice.
I can say that I left with a sense of pride that I am a trial lawyer helping individuals obtain justice against large corporations and insurance companies, and know that without my involvement the individuals I have represented over the years would likely have been the victim of a corporation or insurance company taking advantage and denying fair and just compensation for the harm that was caused.
Our firm has been helping injured crewmembers and passengers obtain justice against large cruise ship companies who do what they can to avoid and restrict their accountability. Cruise ship companies insert into passenger tickets limitations on the ability of the passengers to sue the cruise ship companies when a passenger gets injured during a cruise. They shorten the time limitations an individual has to sue. They impose conditions on the filing of the lawsuit. They dictate where the lawsuit must be filed. Once onboard the ship they require passengers to sign waivers of liability when participating in shipboard activities, attempting to escape any liability for any negligence. They fly foreign flags of convenience in order to avoid application of United States laws and to save taxes.
With respect to crewmembers, the companies are inserting mandatory arbitration clauses in the take it or leave it employment agreements, again attempting to deny seamen their access to the courts and their statutory rights to a jury trial.
The cruise ship companies continue to spend millions on lobbyists to make sure the laws that are passed are favorable to the industry, and continue to restrict the rights of individuals to fair and just compensation. A perfect example is the recent Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill Explosion which killed many crewmembers. The families soon realized that a federal statute called the Death on the High Seas Act limited their recovery to pecuniary damages only, and they could not recover any of their non-economic losses such as the loss of the love and companionship of the deceased. Attempts at amending the legislation to lift this harsh restriction have been unsuccessful due to the lobbying efforts of the shipping industry.
The documentary is right on the money. Big interest groups continue to dictate our justice system. It is trial lawyers who stand up to these big interest groups and protect individuals.
Our firm continues to be cruise ship and boating safety advocates for those injured at sea.