John Doe A v. Penn State
First Penn State scandal lawsuit says Coach Jerry Sandusky sexually abused a boy more than 100 times and the abuse was enabled by the school's "negligent oversight."
Bradley v. Lohan
Former Betty Ford Center employee sues Lindsay Lohan for assault, alleging the actress threw a phone at her and yanked her wrist while refusing to be breathalzyed.
N.D. v. New York Post
Hotel maid allegedly raped by French politician sues the New York Post for falsely reporting that she is a prostitute who "routinely traded sex for money" with male guests.
Reinhart v. Mortenson
Two Montana residents allege the author of "Three Cups of Tea" "fabricated material about his activities and work in Pakistan and Afghanistan" to sell the book.
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• Maryland appeals court says dog owners can be held strictly liable for pit bull attacks. "Because of its aggressive and vicious nature and its capability to inflict serious and sometimes fatal injuries, pit bulls and cross-bred pit bulls are inherently dangerous." Tracey v. Solesky

• Woman who has been diagnosed as a sex addict sues a school district for failing to prevent her from having sex with male students on the school bus when she was in 11th grade.
Barksdale v. Egg Harbor Township Bd. of Ed.

• Civil rights activist challenges Georgia's "stand your ground law." "By not defining what actions create a reasonable perception justifying the use of deadly force, the Act[] potentially deprives all Georgia[n]s of the right to life without due process of law." Hutchins v. Deal

• Former patient of a Rhode Island doctor sues him for featuring her in a book about drug addiction. "Plaintiff had expected, as any reasonable patient would, that her private conversations during her treatment sessions with the Defendant would remain private and confidential."
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• Class action alleges the YMCA deceives consumers by representing that it practices "Christian" values while allowing its gyms to be used for gay sex trysts. "YMCAs around the country ... are currently being used as brothels for cruising, with the YMCA's knowledge and implicit consent."
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• Social workers are not liable for a sexual assault on a 5-year-old boy by a 16-year-old male placed in an adoptive home. "To rule against the individual defendants in this case would definitely break new ground."
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• Student sues college for refusing to grant her the "reasonable accommodation" of a single room after she complained about her roommate's exhibitionist behavior.
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• School district can be sued over a guidance counselor's sexual relationship with a student who was over the age of consent. "The inherent imbalance of power between a guidance counselor in a public school and a student may render opportunistic sexual predation sufficiently shocking, even with a 'consenting' student over sixteen, to form the basis of a substantive due process claim."
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• Utah judge finds a "credible threat" that Utah County officials will prosecute a polygamist and his wives for bigamy. The officials' acts "suggest that an actual prosecution of Plaintiffs is forthcoming."
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• Louisville, Ky., strip club sues a competitor for displaying an electronic sign outside a convention center that said "Don't go to Godfathers, their girls are ugly and have crabs."
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• Oglala Sioux tribe sues beer makers and Whiteclay, Neb., bars for enabling alcohol abuse on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The illegal trade in alcohol has "caused devastating injuries to the Lakota people and massive financial damages to the [tribe]."
Oglala Sioux Tribe v. Schwarting




Alltop_125x125.jpg







Court Shuts Down References to 'Iconic' Coffee Case Print

A defense lawyer's fleeting reference to the “uniquely iconic” McDonald's coffee case was enough for the Utah Supreme Court to order a new trial in a pedestrian accident lawsuit and allow the plaintiff to seek a larger damages award.

Kristin VanOrman

A jury awarded the injured pedestrian, John Boyle, $62,500 after the lawyer for motorist Kerry Christensen argued that Boyle's method for computing noneconomic damages could result in an excessive verdict similar to that in the McDonald's case. The verdict included $27,800 for pain and suffering, significantly less than the $370,000 Boyle had asked for.

The Supreme Court acknowledged that attorneys have “considerable latitude in their closing arguments.” But it said Christensen's lawyer “improperly appeal[ed] to the jury's passions” by referring to the $2.9 million award that Stella Liebeck won in 1994 for her hot coffee-spill injuries.

“Given the uniquely iconic nature of this case, the passion it has produced in the media, and the general misunderstanding of the totality of its facts and reasoning among the public, we find it hard to imagine a scenario where it would be proper for a party's counsel to refer to it before a jury,” Chief Justice Christine M. Durham wrote for the court.

Not only was the reference to the McDonald's case improper but there was also “at least a reasonable likelihood of a more favorable verdict for Mr. Boyle absent the improper reference,” she concluded.

The opinion reversed the Utah Court of Appeals, which, in affirming the jury's verdict in 2009, saw “no harm in allowing Christensen to use a cultural reference as shorthand to make the point that, in Christensen's opinion, Mr. Boyle's damages methodology was likely to render this jury's verdict excessive.” Boyle v. Christensen, 219 P.3d 58 (2009).

The case involves an accident in 2004 in which Christensen struck Boyle with his vehicle as Boyle was walking in a crosswalk. Boyle, a former professional golfer, had surgery for back injuries that allegedly prevented him from lifting two buckets of golf balls at the same time.

Christensen admitted liability, leaving damages as the only trial issue. Boyle's lawyer used the “per diem” method to estimate his pain-and-suffering damages, multiplying his loss for one day by the number of days that he had been injured and would be injured in the future.

During closing arguments, defense lawyer Kristin A. VanOrman told the jury,

Ladies and gentlemen, they want a lot of money for this. A lot of money. What's been written on the board is called a per diem analysis ... How many days has it been since the accident? How many days for the rest of his life. And how much per day is that worth? That's what's been done here. That's how we get verdicts like in the McDonald's case with a cup of coffee.

VanOrman did not mention that Liebeck's award consisted mostly of punitive damages and the trial judge later reduced it to $640,000. At oral argument before the Supreme Court, she defended her reference to the McDonald's case.

“It was meant as an analogy, it was meant as a shortcut ... Frankly, it was an off-the-cuff remark,” she said.

But Boyle lawyer Karra J. Porter complained that defense attorneys have made a habit of referring to the case in closing arguments. “I believe this is one of the most prejudicial things that can be said, which is why I think that we hear it so often,” she said.

Justice Durham sympathized with Porter, asking VanOrman at one point, “Why shouldn't we simply shut this practice down in Utah?”

She also cited “empirical research that demonstrates that the person on the street who knows nothing about the law or the facts in the McDonald's coffee case” thinks that it represents “greedy plaintiffs who receive outrageous verdicts in personal injury cases.”

But a Pennsylvania appeals court found in 2001 that a trial judge did not prejudice a jury by asking potential jurors if they thought the McDonald's case was “ridiculous.” The 43 potential jurors who answered “Yes,” the court said in Mansour v. Linganna, 787 A.2d 443, “also indicated their feelings in this regard would not affect their ability to be impartial.”

Perhaps the jury in Boyle's case simply rejected the per diem method. After all, one critic has said that “by falsely attributing mathematical certainty where none exists and ignoring the realities of modern pain management techniques, the per diem method misleads jurors into arriving at an artificially high award.”

The Utah Supreme Court insulted the intelligence of the jury by assuming it would not be able to take VanOrman's rhetoric with a pinch of salt.

This story linked by:


By Matthew Heller
4/24/11


 

Editor's note: On Point's RSS feed has moved to this link.

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