Just so we’re on the same page, I’m calling a lawsuit a means of resolving civil issues through monetary settlement. I’m particularly interested in the fact that settlements often seem disproportionately large compared to the alleged “damages.”

In the 21st century people are seeking to resolve every possible issue through lawsuits. We are all undoubtedly familiar with the case of the woman who ordered coffee to go at Macdonalds, spilled it in her car and burned herself, and successfully sued the fast food giant.

This case illustrates the perverse nature of our legal system. Consider that at least one-third of any lawsuit award goes to the suing attorney. That is their sole motivation for suing. Attorneys are not any more altruistic than you or I. What made the attorney take the coffee-spiller’s case? The woman was significantly injured? He felt sorry for her? Neither.

He took the case because the “offending and therefore negligent party” was sue-able. If a guy with the hot dog stand on wheels sold her hot coffee and it burned her, who could the attorney sue? Macdonalds is huge and has deep pockets.

A client of mine manages thirteen Hess gas station-mini-marts. He said the Drug Alcohol and Tobacco people regularly send underage people to his stores to try to purchase cigarettes. They do not send these imposters to “ma and pa” stores. This is because they can heavily fine deep-pocketed Amarada Hess for violating the tobacco laws, but can’t similarly fine some small operation without putting them out of business.

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One Comment on “Lawsuits”

  1. Diane Says:

    People who comment on the McDonalds case fail to understand this: McDonalds had been serving coffee at a temperature far above the industry norm (i.e. the temperature of a cup of coffee at 7-11 or other vendor comparable to McDonalds) for some time. Many people had been injured, and many had complained to McDonalds but, despite this knowledge, McDonalds failed to notify its branches to alter the practice.
    The woman who sued was burned by the coffee when it was spilled long after she purchased it – I cannot remember the exact time lapse but I believe that it was more than half an hour after purchase. Can you imagine how hot that coffee must have been when she bought it if it seriously burned her skin all that time later?
    She was able to win a large judgement because she could prove that McDonalds had the opportunity to change its procedures to minimize the possibility of injuring people who purchased their coffee but failed to do so. As a result, the plaintiff was awarded compensatory damages (to compensate for her injuries) and punitive damages (to punish McDonalds for its failure to protect its customers from what it knew to be a dangerous situation). The punitive damages were high since they are meant to punish the perpetrator and are determined in accordance with the unacceptable level of behavior of the defendant and defendant’s overall financial value; the law wants to make certain that punitive damages are such that they cannot be anticipated as a “cost of doing business”.
    Yes, the lawyer who took this case got a big fee but realize that there was a lot of work required to get from the beginning to the end of that case. In addition, the lawyer was fronting his own (or his firm’s) time, realizing that they might come away with nothing but reimbursement for expenses from a losing plaintiff. Realize also that many contingency fee lawyers scale their fees depending on the status of the case at the time of resolution, e.g. 20% if settlement occurs prior to filing a court case, 33% of any award after trial.
    Please don’t dump on lawyers until you really understand what it is that we do. We are not greedy vultures but people who make our living trying to make society work as the laws expect. We are, unfortunately, the only people who really do know the rules – which we learn in law school – so those who have not been exposed to that situation perhaps cannot understand. Which leads me to ask: When you don’t understand what the plumber does, do you then deride his profession as well?

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