Personal Injury | Medical Malpractice | Professional Negligence | Bankruptcy

Those Frivolous Juries and Outrageous Jury Verdicts

     Several years ago, many of us, including a good number of Phoenix personal injury lawyers, read with shock about a woman who poured coffee on herself and collected millions. Some people were outraged and, for many of those, even an understanding of the facts would make little difference. They have made up their mind that we are a litigious society and plaintiff’s injury lawyers are lurking around every dark corner waiting to take advantage of someone involved in some sort of a mishap, whether they were injured were not.

     That is a subject for a different day. For now, I want to offer my thoughts on what many perceive to be a frivolous jury system that hands out money freely and willingly without considering the merits of a case. In the coffee case, styled Liebeck v. McDonalds, Ms. Liebeck and her grandson, Chris, went through the drive-through at a local McDonald’s and ordered, among other things, a cup of coffee for herself. She received her coffee along with creamer and sweetener. As McDonald’s could reasonably foresee, Ms. Liebeck braced the cup of coffee with her legs and proceeded to remove the lid to add the cream and sweetener. As she removed the lid, coffee spilled and caused second- and third-degree burns across her buttocks, thighs, and labia. Over $20,000 in medical bills later, Ms. Liebeck was left with significant scarring and disfigurement. She asked McDonald’s to cover her medical bills and nothing more. When McDonald’s refused, Ms. Liebeck sued.

     Before a case ever gets to trial, the parties engage in discovery and disclosure. This is where each side can learn what the other side’s claims and defenses are. Lacking the resources of McDonald’s, Ms. Liebeck had to turn to a lawyer who would both wait to be paid (and then to be paid only if she won) and pay, out of his or her own pocket, the costs of discovery and disclosure, just as a Phoenix personal injury lawyer would do. Depending on the size of the case, the costs of discovery and disclosure can exceed $100,000; this is pocket change to McDonald’s but more money than Ms. Liebeck would ever have available if she were required to pay her own way in her lawsuit.

     During discovery and disclosure, Ms. Liebeck and her legal team learned that the temperature of the McDonald’s coffee when it was given to the consumer was 40° to 50° hotter than that fit for human consumption. Please don’t get me wrong, McDonald’s makes a very good cup of coffee. I have found that I do need to let it cool for an inordinate amount of time before I can begin drinking it. The problem with giving a consumer coffee at such extreme temperatures is the consumer can suffer severe burns, as Ms. Liebeck did, if the coffee touches the skin. Discovery also showed that McDonald’s had received more than 700 previous reports of injury from its coffee, including reports of third-degree burns, and had paid settlements in some cases. A reasonable corporation would conclude that it needed to lower the temperature of the coffee served to the public as this is a safety issue.

     The law requires all of us to reasonably foresee the consequences of our actions. Since almost anyone who ever drank a liquid of any nature from a cup, glass, or other container (that’s all of us) has spilled a liquid on him or herself, it is reasonably foreseeable that someone served a cup of coffee, regardless of the temperature, could spill it on him or herself. It is reasonable for a restaurant that serves coffee with creamer and sweetener to be added to the coffee through a drive-through window to foresee that a consumer will brace the coffee between his or her legs, remove the lid and spill coffee on him or herself while adding the creamer or sweetener.

     After selling Ms. Liebeck a cup of coffee that it knew was 40° to 50° hotter than what she could have consumed, it was reasonable for McDonald’s to foresee that as Ms. Liebeck braced the coffee between her legs to remove the lid and add creamer or sweetener she could spill coffee on her legs and, given its extreme temperature, suffer severe burns and personal injuries.

     The case the jury heard was not the same case that most of us read about. The case the jury heard was about a company that disregarded prior warnings and sanctions, disregarded the welfare of its customers, and served a product that was not fit for human consumption knowing or (as a Phoenix personal injury lawyer would say) having reason to know that the consumer could suffer serious personal injuries from using the product in its intended manner. That jury took its duties responsibly and told McDonald’s to pay the medical bills along with an appropriate amount for Ms. Liebeck’s personal injuries and a large amount for punitive damages.

     Punitive damages are intended to punish the wrongdoer. Punitive damages are not available in most injury cases. Punitive damages were available here largely because McDonald’s not only should have known independently it was serving a product too hot to consume but was warned and had paid previous settlements for serving that product at that temperature. In the end, a jury awarded Ms. Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages. This amount was reduced to $160,000 because the jury found Liebeck 20% at fault for the spill. The jury also awarded Ms. Liebeck $2.7 million in punitive damages. But that wasn’t the end of the case; McDonald’s appealed and by the time of the appeals were over, the Judge reduced the punitive award to $480,000 — or three times compensatory damages. The exact amount of the final settlement is unknown.

     That the appellate courts reduced the jury’s verdict does not support the notion that jurors are frivolous and that jury verdicts are outrageous. Jurors are everyday people who work hard to provide for themselves and their families and give their time to fulfill one of the most important of civic duties-jury service. Any of you reading this may receive a jury summons in tomorrow’s mail. If you do, I hope you have an opportunity to take part in this important function. I know you will discharge your duties as responsibly and carefully as did the Liebeck jurors. Being a part of the jury process along with Phoenix personal injury lawyers and defense lawyers will leave you with a better understanding of how this process works and the satisfaction of having helped achieve justice for the parties.

Tips for Landing that Job!

Clarke Law Offices is an Arizona Bankruptcy Attorney, and we know a lot of people out there are still struggling to find work and get their head above water. While filing Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy is a helpful tool for a lot of people to get a fresh start, we know it’s important to have employment to keep the street clean once you’ve filed Bankruptcy. So, we’ve put together some tips to help job hunters get their foot in the door.

1) Have a resume. No matter what job field you are applying in, you should always have a resume. Even if you’re able to pick up applications for a position (such as retail), include your resume with it when you return the application. This looks professional and shows potential employers that you’re willing to go the extra mile to make a nice presentation of yourself.

2) Taylor your resume for the job you are applying for. Look at the job requirements and description in the job advertisement. Do you have related experience for that particular job? If so, modify your resume to bring those qualifications forward. Employers don’t have time to read every word on your resume so be strategic and make sure you are offering them information they care to hear.

3) Send a cover letter, with EVERY resume. Your cover letter should be short and sweet with 3-4 paragraphs:

i. Express your interest in the position listed

ii. Discuss your specific qualifications

iii. Address any concerning items on your resume (gaps in job history or short employment periods)

iv. Tell them how to contact you and again of your interest in working for their company

Again, this is professional and shows your employer that you’re not too lazy to send a cover letter. I know it sounds like a lot of work, and it is! The trick is to create a template cover letter and make modifications where necessary for each new application.

4) Check for correct spelling and grammar; be meticulous! This is so important. Potential employers want to know that you’re smart and detail oriented. Have at least two other people review your cover letter and resume for spelling and grammatical errors. If you are making slight changes to either, for tailoring purposes, scrutinize your changes for any mistakes. Also, be consistent with spacing and punctuation in bullet points.

5) Network! This is the number one route to finding a job these days. Talk to people you know in your field, family, friends and acquaintances and tell them you’re looking for employment. Ask them to send your resume to their friends and professional contacts. Most people are willing to help a friend or even an acquaintance get their foot in the door, and most hiring agents would rather hire a referral than a random applicant.

6) Be persistent. You know the old saying “Looking for a job is a full time job.” Well, it’s true! Make a goal for yourself to send out 3-4 applications a day until you find employment. It’s easy to get discouraged but if you don’t apply, you won’t get the job. So keep moving forward!

7) Dress to Impress. Even if you’re just picking up applications, you always want to wear your “Sunday Best.” This means no denim, no tank tops, no t-shirts, no hats, no flip flops, MAYBE a clean pair of tennis shoes. Here’s what’s best:

i. Gentleman – Slacks with a button down shirt and tie. Jackets preferred especially if you are applying for a seriously professional job. Belt and matching shoes. Freshly shaved face and cut hair. If the job you’re applying for is more casual, khakis and a collared polo shirt (tucked in with a belt) are acceptable.

ii. Ladies – Stay away from the cleavage, tight clothing, super colorful makeup and inappropriate shoes. We aren’t going to the club here. Any skirt or dress should come to the knee or below. Nothing shorter. What works: Slacks with a sweater or blouse; A suit with pants or a skirt; A professional dress. Shoes should be conservative pumps, flats or boots. Have your hair washed and well groomed. If you have long hair, consider tying it back in a smooth ponytail. Limit jewelry.

8) Research your employer online before your interview. Employers love to know that you know about their company. It may come up only in small talk, but you will score extra points for knowing that the CEO just awarded a major gift to a local charity or that the company only buys locally grown fruits and vegetables for its restaurant.

9) Be professional and polite to everyone you meet on your way to your interview, even at the coffee shop down the street. You never know if you’re interacting with someone from the company you’re about to interview with. Even if it’s just the janitor, companies respect the input of their current employees.

10) Send a thank you note no later than one day after your interview. Hand written notes are always a nice touch but it may not be feasible, especially if they are going to make their hiring decision quickly. Make sure you get business cards from everyone you interview with and send them each a unique letter by email or snail mail. If you forget a card, call and ask the receptionist for their emails!

11) If you don’t get the job, don’t get discouraged. Hiring is a tough job and it’s easy to choose the wrong candidate or to have to choose between two right candidates. Tell the employer that you are still thankful for the opportunity and if their hiring decision doesn’t work out to call you. I’ve personally done a lot of hiring in my past and many times the new hire doesn’t work out within the first few days. I always go back to my second choice to see if they are still available.

I am a Phoenix bankruptcy lawyer and I help clients file for Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy in Arizona. We’ve mentioned in previous posts about the importance of lining up a job prior to filing for Bankruptcy because you only get the chance to wipe the slate clean every 7 years. Bankruptcy is a great tool for people who have fallen behind due to hardship and are on their way to recovering.

For more information on Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy in Arizona, visit our FAQs page.

If you are thinking about filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy in Phoenix, Arizona but have questions, call us at 602-952-3232 for a free consultation or submit an online case-review form.

Finding the Money to File Bankruptcy

As mentioned in our previous post “Making Chapter 7 Bankruptcy More Affordable,” one often faces a quandary about where to find the money to hire a bankruptcy attorney in phoenix and pay for filing fees for a Bankruptcy.  This is a common dilemma that filers face and we have some suggestions on how to come up with funding:

1)       Stop making payments on unsecured debts – if you are sure you want to file and know that you are eligible, you can stop making payments on credit cards, medical bills, and any other debts that aren’t for assets you intend to keep.  If you’ve been current on your payments to date, you’ll probably be able to save a good chunk of money to pay for your attorney.

 

2)       Stop making payments on secured debts if you don’t want to keep the asset – have an extra car or boat with a loan payment and you aren’t interested in keeping it?  You can stop paying on that too.  This can put the asset into danger of being repossessed prior to filing bankruptcy but if you are in financial trouble and have planned to get rid of the property anyway, you might be better to not sink any more money into it and save up for your Phoenix Bankruptcy Lawyer.

 

3)       Use your Tax Refund – tax refunds are fair game in Bankruptcy to help pay your creditors down.  Plus, you have to be current on filing your tax returns to get your Bankruptcy approved.  So, if you know you’re getting a refund, you can use it to help finance your Bankruptcy Attorney in Phoenix and filing fees.

 

4)       Ask a friend or family member for help – a lot of filers get help from loved ones in order to hire a Bankruptcy Attorney, especially if they have been helping you out with your bills anyway.  Friends and family members are often willing to help if it is going to lead to long term debt resolution.  However, any money received from another person within the 6 months prior to filing for Bankruptcy would be considered income as far as the Means Test is concerned, which determines your eligibility to file for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy.

 

Hopefully one, or a combination, of these options will get you the funding you need to hire a Bankruptcy Attorney in Phoenix and move forward with filing your petition.

If you have any questions about the above information or about filing Bankruptcy in general, please contact our office at 602-952-3232 for a free consultation or submit our Online Case Review form.

For more information, you can also visit our FAQ page.

Stop Wage Garnishment with Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

Wage garnishment. It sounds terrible, especially if it’s for something like a defaulted car or credit card payment. I would imagine that if you had the means to pay your bill that you would have done so, but now someone is making the decision for you regarding whether you can AND what you can afford to pay. It can be extremely frustrating to have money taken right out of your pay check when you legitimately need those funds for food, shelter or clothing.

Did you know that when you file Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, you can immediately stop wage garnishment? This may not apply to certain payments for taxes, child support or alimony, but it does apply to those default judgments for consumer debts.

When you file Bankruptcy, an Automatic Stay is put in place that protects the debtor (you) and all assets (your paycheck, vehicle, house etc.) from being taken by creditors, which can includes wage garnishments for consumer debts. As long as your Bankruptcy is granted and your debt is discharged, you will never again see that same, pesky wage garnishment appear on your paycheck.

If your wage garnishment is significant then filing for Bankruptcy as soon as possible can be critical to protecting your hard earned money. Protecting our clients is one of the most rewarding aspects of practicing Bankruptcy law.

This post is not intended to be legal advice since everyone’s situation is different. If you think you need our help to stop wage garnishments, call us today for a free consultation at 602-952-3232 or submit our online case review form.

Ask and You Shall Receive

Why does it sometimes seem like one can never get ahead?  Yet there are some people in this world that through sheer luck have built a rich and fancy-free life on nothing more than a pretty smile; spending their days lounging in the sun and buying Ferraris as birthday gifts for good friends.  For most of us, a Ferrari is a far away dream and a weekend vacation at the beach is an ultimate luxury.  The rest of our days are spent waking up, getting ready for work, driving in rush-hour traffic, working for 9 or more hours, driving again in rush-hour traffic, eating dinner, going to bed – rinse and repeat.  Throw a spouse and some kids in there and you’ve got a hectic, albeit beautiful and worthwhile, life to try to keep up with.

It sure isn’t easy for most of us and sometimes it’s just downright harder than we can handle to get the two ends of necessity and ability to meet.  This is just the hand we were dealt and the best we can do is use the tools at our fingertips to keep moving in the right direction.  After a difficult financial hand has been dealt, such as job loss, an illness, death or other life changing and costly event, Chapter 7 Bankruptcy becomes a tool that can offer you the tasty crumbs of financial freedom that the rich and famous enjoy so lavishly.  The ability to file for Bankruptcy is a gift that helps regular people get back ahead when they need it.

Who says we can’t be hard working or middle-class or blue-collar and be happy?  I don’t think anyone ever did.  I like to think that each of our lives has a purpose which will be revealed as the journey plays out.  Through my travels I have learned one of the best lessons in life is about humility and knowing when to ask for help.  Chapter 7 Bankruptcy is an opportunity to stand up to society and say “hey, I need a little help over here!”

If you are thinking about filing for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, please call our office for a free consultation at 602-952-3232 or submit our Online Case Review Form.

For more information on Bankruptcy in general, please visit our FAQ page.

Call us today for a free consultation (602) 952-3232

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