Beware the Reformer in the Expensive Suit: How Big Business is Trying to Limit Your Rights
Tort Reform is a phrase that most Portland personal injury attorneys cringe at hearing. Wikipedia defines tort reform as: “proposed changes in common law civil justice systems that would reduce tort litigation or damages.” Proponents of tort reform argue that jury damage awards in personal injury suits are either too high or inconsistent, i.e., award amounts vary widely in cases where the plaintiffs suffer similar injuries. Opponents of tort reform point to conflicting statistics that show that jury awards are relatively consistent and provide appropriate compensation for the types of injuries suffered by plaintiffs. Opponents of tort reform also criticize the fact that tort reform’s loudest supporters are corporations and professional organizations that have a vested interest in limiting their financial liability in potential lawsuits.
Portland personal injury lawyers are, for the most part, against laws which limit Oregonian’s access to the court room, to jury trials, and to fair damage awards. Portland injury lawyers, including myself, like to see our clients receive damages based on the severity of their injuries, not based on a predetermined statutory formula. This Portland injury attorney sees great constitutional due process problems when legislatures start to limit the range of damages a jury can award or when legislatures bar some plaintiffs from even getting into a courtroom at all.
For anyone interested in learning more about the debate over the civil legal system and ‘tort reform’, I would suggest and highly recommend that you check out the excellent 2011 documentary entitled Hot Coffee. The title of the documentary refers to the now infamous case of Stella Liebeck, an elderly woman who was scalded by McDonald’s coffee. After the incident, and the subsequent lawsuit, politicians, newspapers, and tort reform lobbyists pointed to the case as an example of a ridiculous lawsuit. Because, of course, how could someone blame McDonald’s for hot coffee? It’s obviously the woman’s fault she burned herself right? Wrong!
Turns out Ms. Liebeck had a great case, and this was a far-cry from a frivolous lawsuit. Per McDonald’s standards and operations guidelines, and in the face of several prior complaints about the temperature of the coffee, the coffee was heated to an insanely high temperature. Additionally, it was in a particularly flimsy cup, and McDonald’s had knowledge of other previous accidents related to their coffee and did nothing to change the temperature or the cup design. As a Portland accident attorney it is frustrating to see people jump to conclusions about accident victims like Ms. Liebeck, assuming that they are ‘fakers’ or just looking to get a quick buck from a small injury. I have worked for over 5 years as a Portland injury attorney and most of my clients have been hard-working people who only want to be fairly compensated for their injuries – if I don’t believe in my client’s claim, I don’t take their case.
Unfortunately, those interested in limiting plaintiff’s access to justice, the civil justice system, or compensation for injuries caused by corporate negligence, have done an excellent job disseminating propaganda turning the Ms. Liebeck’s hot coffee case from the quintessential example of the need for plaintiffs to have access to the civil justice system as a check on corporate greed into just the opposite – what most people think of as the epitome of greedy plaintiffs, their greedy lawyers, and frivolous lawsuits. As is often the case, the real truth lies beneath that urban myth exterior and it is nothing like what most people think. This Lake Oswego and Portland car accident attorney can speak from experience in knowing the success the tort reformers have had with their campaign of misinformation because it is the #1 issue and example raised at the first stage of every trial when we are interviewing potential jurors. ALL jurors, without fail, bring up the McDonald’s coffee case.
This accident lawyer who practices in Lake Oswego and Portland strongly recommends that you do the work to learn the real truth about the hot coffee case before you go spouting off about it at your next work meeting or cocktail party. You could actually be the person in the room showing off your intelligence instead of continuing to feed false and misleading urban myths! Just watch the movie and find out.