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McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case: Improper Subject of Closing Argument

For better or worse, the infamous Stella Liebeck McDonald’s hot coffee case filtered through our legal system and staked its claim in the mainstream media. Despite the fanfare surrounding that case, few know all the in’s and out’s of the case from either the plaintiff’s or the defendant’s perspective. Perhaps playing on the ignorance of the general populace, supporters of both tort reform and social justice movements have used the case as propaganda to support their causes. We suppose there is no harm done in using the case as a means of persuading the public. But what would happen if the case was used to sway a jury? Looking deep into the legal vault, the Utah Supreme Court gives us its answer to the question.

In , 251 P.3d 810 (Utah 2011), the plaintiff was injured when struck by a truck while walking in a crosswalk.  After the defendant truck driver admitted liability, the case proceeded to trial on the issue of damages.  During closing arguments, counsel for the defendant responded to the plaintiff’s request for damages as a result of pain and suffering with the following:

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.

Whoa!  Did that come out of nowhere?  Plaintiff’s counsel sure thought so, immediately objecting to the reference as prejudicial and not in evidence.  The objection was overruled, and the jury returned a verdict of $62,500, about one-seventh of that sought by the plaintiff.  Not satisfied with the result and the reference to the infamous hot coffee case, the plaintiff appealed.

After the Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment, the Utah Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to the trial court.  In finding that the reference to the McDonald’s hot coffee case was improper, the Court discussed at-length the general public ignorance of the facts of the McDonald’s case and recited the standard pro-Liebeck talking points (i.e. coffee measured 180-190 degrees, McDonald’s received 700 previous complaints, etc.).  Given this perceived ignorance, the Court stated:

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. Generally, as here, such a reference would seem to have the sole purpose of recalling the public outrage over isolated elements of the case—thus improperly appealing to a jury’s passions. It is not the jury’s job to make legal determinations, so no legal arguments from the case are relevant. The facts in the McDonald’s coffee case were not in evidence before this jury and were also utterly irrelevant. Indeed, the one attempt counsel made to make her reference seem relevant was a misrepresentation because the high punitive damages award in the McDonald’s coffee case had nothing to do with a per diem analysis. It is certainly unfair to require the other party to clarify all the misconceptions about this irrelevant case in the limited time allotted for closing argument. The great latitude provided in closing arguments regards reasonable inferences about evidence properly before the jury and does not extend to misrepresentations or efforts to appeal to a jury’s passions. Thus the reference to the McDonald’s coffee case in closing argument was improper.

While we may disagree with some of the Court’s talking points, we have to agree that the reference to the McDonald’s case was improper in this context.  The jury should be deciding the case based on the facts at hand and not based on whatever misconceptions they may have about another case tried in another jurisdiction years before.  Interestingly, it appears that defense counsel may have been equally ignorant of the facts of the McDonald’s case as those sitting in the jury box.  As the Court correctly noted, the high punitive damages awarded in the McDonald’s case were based on two days of coffee sales and not the per diem analysis used to calculate pain and suffering to which he was arguing.

There is nothing wrong with continuing to discuss the McDonald’s case.  We do it a lot here at Abnormal Use.  However, we should keep it in its proper context and out of the courtroom.

And, for good measure, let’s try to know the facts before bringing the case up in public.

(Hat Tip: ).

Federal Lawsuit Alleges Duck Dynasty Stole Plaintiff’s Favorite “Color”

688彩票官网camo

At this point, everyone knows A&E’s hit television show “.”  The characters on the program have coined various catch phrases, including Uncle Si Robertson’s declaration that “My Favorite Color is Camo.”  The popularity of this quip led A&E to produce a line of camouflage clothing marketed to the show’s fans – a move which generated “$400 million in revenues from sales of Duck Dynasty branded merchandise at Wal-Mart in 2013 alone,” according to a new lawsuit filed against the network.  The total revenues from the Duck Dynasty brand are unclear, but A&E reportedly also sells the clothing through merchandising deals with Sears, Kohl’s, Sports Authority, and Target. A Florida retail company, Hajn, alleges that it came up with the “My Favorite Color is Camo” trademark and began selling merchandise using the trademark in 2011, a year before “Duck Dynasty” first aired.  So, naturally, it has showed up to legally speaking. Hajn sent a cease and desist letter to A&E asking that it stop selling the merchandise, but apparently the sales continued. So, on July 22, Hajn filed suit for willful trademark infringement and unfair competition in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Florida to prevent A&E from using its purported trademark. A&E has apparently declined to comment, and as of press time, it has not yet filed a response to the lawsuit.

We will say that we were impressed with the color images of advertisements – and even tweets – embedded into the complaint. Longtime readers may recall that back in 2010 we here at Abnormal Use remarked:

While it is customary to attach photographs as exhibits to memoranda in support of motions, rarely does the attorney actually embed the photograph into the pleading itself. (This is changing for the better, though.).

Whatever the case, we should all be patient to see where this one goes, or as Uncle Si says “”

The suit is Hajn, LLC v. A&E Television Networks, LLC, 2:14-cv-14291-KAM (S.D. Fla).

Former Oppressive Dictator Sues Video Game Creator For Portraying Him As An Oppressive Dictator

688彩票官网Noriega

We recently , former Panamanian dictator, Manuel Noriega, has filed suit in California state court against video game creator Activision Blizzard for using his likeness in Call of Duty: Black Ops II.  Noriega is apparently the subject of various fictional missions within the video game that include historical footage and “real-life characters in Cold War scenarios, including Oliver North.”

Noriega, who is currently serving out a prison sentence in Panama for “drug trafficking, money laundering, and killing political opponents,” alleges in his lawsuit that, among other things, the defendant “damaged his reputation” by portraying him “as a kidnapper, murderer, and enemy of the state.”  For these alleged wrongs, Noriega seeks damages, to include a share of the profits from sales of the video game. He also demanded a jury trial!

Now, quite frankly, this is a deposition that we would like to see (assuming that the case makes it to the discovery phase and that Noriega, currently a prisoner in Panama, testifies in any way, shape, or form). We’re amused that in his Complaint, in the “Parties” section, Noriega mentions that he is “an individual residing in Gamboa, Panama,” without referencing that he is, in fact, in prison. If he is deposed, we would ask that defense counsel please question him about the punk rock and heavy metal music that was played during back in the day. But that’s just us. .

An unrelated confession: The Activision game our editor played was for the Atari 2600.

Abnormal Interviews: James Daily of The Law and the Multiverse Blog

Today, we here at Abnormal Use once again continues our series, “Abnormal Interviews,” in which we conduct brief interviews with law professors, practitioners, and other commentators in the field. For the latest installment, we turn once more to lawyer blogger James Daily of  blog, an incredibly fun site in which the authors apply the laws of the real world to the exploits of comic book superheroes. You might recall that we interviewed James and his co-blogger Ryan Davidson way, way back in March 2011. James was kind enough to submit to a second interview with Abnormal Use, which is as follows:

JIM DEDMAN:  We first interviewed you in March 2011, just a few months after the blog debuted in late 2010. In the years since, what is the most important lesson you have learned as a legal blogger?

JAMES DAILY: I’ve learned a few different lessons, but it’s hard to say which is the most important.  One thing I’ve learned is to change it up from time to time.  Some of my most popular posts have been about unusual topics, such as .  They’ve also been a nice change of pace for me.

DEDMAN: You’ve achieved an immense amount of attention as a result of the site, including interviews with national publications, a book deal, and even your own Wikipedia entry. What do you feel has been your biggest success with the site?

DAILY:  All of that attention has been a continual surprise.  I think the biggest success has been that I still get more questions from readers than I have time to fully answer.  It underscores the point that there is still tons of material to write about, and as an attorney it’s always a great feeling when someone wants to know your opinion about a legal issue, even a fictional one.

DEDMAN: As the blog approaches its fourth anniversary, what challenges do you face in continuing to find new material for the site?

DAILY:  The main challenge I have is finding the time to write, not finding new material.  I have a backlog of dozens of questions from readers, and I’ve fallen behind on Daredevil and She-Hulk, to say nothing of less law-focused comics.  The creativity and breadth of questions from readers never ceases to amaze me.  They often come up with better post ideas than I could.

DEDMAN:  Since the blog came into being in 2010, what has been your favorite reaction from a reader to the site and its mission?

DAILY:  I have received quite a few letters from law students, lawyers, and comic book fans that include some version of “I’m so glad I found the site.  I thought I was the only one that thought about this kind of stuff.”  It validates the thesis of the site, and I think it’s great that the blog has contributed to a community of sites centered around discussing the law and pop culture.

DEDMAN: As you know, there is a burgeoning movement of “real” superheroes out there making news in some jurisdictions. What have you learned from writing the site that might be of benefit to them?

DAILY: The main thing I’ve learned is that it would be very, very difficult to be a comic book-type superhero that stays within the bounds of the law and yet still does more than act as a member of the neighborhood watch.  The law has evolved to frown on “self-help”, with the possible exception of modern stand-your-ground and castle laws.  It’s a legal tightrope act without a net, and I don’t recommend it.

DEDMAN:  Is service by publication the only way to serve a superhero or villain with a lawsuit?

DAILY:  It depends on the superhero or villain.  Some superheroes have very public identities (e.g. Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk and Tony Stark/Iron Man).  Even some villains act more-or-less in the open, such as Wilson Fisk/Kingpin.  And of course even a villain such as The Joker could be served during one his many (brief) stays in Arkham Asylum.  Even more reclusive characters such as Batman and Superman have .  A really aggressive process server might stage a crime (with a “victim” who was in on it) in order to attract a superhero’s attention.  That might make for an interesting comic book story!

BONUS QUESTIONS:

DEDMAN:  What has been your favorite post since you founded the site?

DAILY:  I have trouble picking my favorite anything, but I really enjoyed the opportunity to  (writer of Daredevil, among many other things) and , the artist who created the contract for The Hobbit movies.  That was definitely something made possible by the success of the rest of the blog.  I enjoyed being able to take a peek behind the scenes and hopefully ask questions that my audience would want to know about that wouldn’t be asked elsewhere.  Since you’ve also interviewed Mark Waid (and a host of other interesting folks), I think you can understand the appeal.

DEDMAN:  What is your favorite superhero movie?

DAILY:  Another favorites question!  I’m going to punt and say the Christopher Nolan Batman movies and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  But honestly the MCU movies have been so consistently good that it’s tempting to say all of them.  I’ve generally enjoyed them more than the Spider-Man and X-Men movies, although The Wolverine and Days of Future Past were quite good.

DEDMAN:  What do you feel is the most disastrous depiction of the legal process in popular culture, and why?

DAILY:  That’s a tricky one.  Disastrously wrong or disastrous for its negative impact on society’s perception of lawyers or the legal process?  I tend to shy away from writing about stories that get the law laughably wrong, since it’s not much fun to beat up on someone’s creative work, especially when legal accuracy is rarely central to the plot.  .

BIOGRAPHY:  James Daily is an attorney licensed in Missouri and a graduate of the Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. He is also registered to practice before the United States Patent and Trademark Office. He and Ryan Davidson started the  blog in November of 2010. You can follow him on Twitter .

Friday Links

688彩票官网alf

We here at Abnormal Use are somewhat embarrassed to admit that we were once fans of the television show, “Alf.” But, hey, we all have some mortifying secret from the 1980’s, right? Accordingly, we direct you to the above cover of Alf #33, published way, way back in 1990. Note that the cover depicts a wanted poster for Alf who is, apparently, sought by the law for “illegal entropy” and, our favorite, “impersonating a USDA inspector.” We wonder who defended our favorite alien life form at his criminal trial, but perhaps we will never, ever know (not having read this issue or mustered the energy to seek it out 24 years later). Alas, Alf.

We’ve written a bit about the products liability implications of driverless cars, but what about the criminal law? . We’re thinking, perhaps, that the FBI has forgotten about all of the driverless cars that have assisted law enforcement, like KITT from “Knight Rider.”

As a law firm with three offices in the Carolinas, we were surprised to learn that part of the latest X-Men comic book takes place in Charleston, South Carolina. Apparently, aliens attack the city. For more on that, see .

If we had filed that lawsuit, we would have concluded our complaint with the phrase “(Save A) Prayer For Relief.” But we’re music nerds.

Are you following Abnormal Use on the Facebook? If not, you can do so by clicking !

Chicago Cubs File Suit to Stop Rogue Cub

688彩票官网Billy Cub

, the Chicago Cubs have filed suit against five individuals responsible for the “billy cub” mascot, which has interacted with fans around Wrigley field for the past seven years in exchange for tips.  Billy Club has no actual affiliation with the Chicago Cubs organization.  Apparently, the litigation was sparked by a bar fight between Billy Cub and a bar patron.  The incident drew extensive publicity after a video of the altercation was .  According to witnesses, the video showed only a small portion of the harassment that Billy Cub had been receiving from the fan prior to the incident, and the removal of the head was the last straw.  So, why can’t the Cubs give Billy Cub a pass? According to the Cubs, this is not the first time Billy Club has acted mischievously.  The Cubs allege that Billy Cub has a history of bad behavior, including swearing and using racial slurs in connection with bad tips received from fans. So what do the Cubs want a court to do?  Among other things, they have asked that the Billy Cub mascot outfit be delivered for destruction. Delivered for destruction? How about that?

Wedding Disasters: Funny Stories Or Lawsuit Worthy?

Weddings are a big deal. Couples  spend thousands of dollars to make sure every tiny detail is perfect. Unfortunately, however, there is no guarantee the ceremony will go off without a hitch. Even when spending a small fortune, a wedding can be ruined by a rain shower or an intoxicated participant. Sometimes, the “disaster” transitions into a humorous story after time removes the scarring. Other times, the disaster is so egregious that it might just lead to a lawsuit. It is a fine line, to be sure. Recently, a South Carolina couple has alleged that they found themselves on the wrong side of that line. But let’s allow you to judge.

According to a out of the Daily Mail, a Charleston couple claims that their 2013 wedding was ruined after a man exposed his genitalia during their ceremony in the courtyard of the Doubletree Inn. Apparently, a naked hotel guest decided that he wanted to take part in the ceremony by standing in front of an open window overlooking the courtyard in all his glory. This curious event transpired after the couple was allegedly assured by hotel management that the ceremony would not be disrupted by hotel guests not in attendance. As a result, the couple and the bride’s parents have filed suit against City Market Hotels seeking actual and punitive damages for negligence and emotional distress. The streaker is not named as a defendant.

We understand the couple’s frustration. You only get one wedding day with your partner. Now, this couple’s special day will always be marred by the actions of a creeper. The question is, however, what, if anything, is this suit worth? Certainly, like any business transaction, if you don’t get what you pay for, you should be able to ask for a refund. Our guess is that if that was all the couple wanted, then there would have been no reason to file suit.

For some, an event such as this is so unconscionable that it will forever cause anguish. For others, it leads to a heck of a funny story from an otherwise bland wedding. We imagine the jury pool will be made up of those on both side of the divide. Whether or not the couple recovers, this event will make for a story they will one day tell their grandchildren. Of course, a good laugh will ensue.

R.I.P. Buckyballs

Buckyballs, we hardly knew ye. Last week, the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced a , putting an end to the two year fight with the product manufacturer. The recall comes on the heels of a well-publicized fight between the CPSC and Buckyballs’ CEO Craig Zucker. After the company openly mocked the CPSC’s efforts to ban the spherically-shaped magnets, the CPSC, in an unprecedented move, went after Zucker personally. While Zucker fought valiantly, he eventually succumbed to the CPSC back in May, agreeing to place $375,000 in trust to facilitate the recall.

We here at Abnormal Use are in a state of mourning now that the recall has come to fruition. Not just because we question the motives of the CPSC. Not even because the Buckyballs saga has been a great source of blog fodder. But, rather, because we respected the fight in Zucker. It is one thing for us to criticize the CPSC behind the protection of our computers. It is quite another to directly challenge the CPSC’s methods.

Never again will we see the likes classic CPSC burns like:

688彩票官网image

or

688彩票官网image

Zucker and Buckyballs are the Secretariat of the product recall world. There will never be another. Like DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, Buckyballs will never be forgotten. We all knew it had to end at some point, but, unfortunately, it was the CPSC that had to be Zucker’s game 57.

New Concerns About Tesla Safety After Crash of Stolen Car

In 2013, in Tesla Model S luxury electric sedans.  Those fires spurred an investigation by federal safety regulators, but ultimately, only minor changes to the cars’ underbody were deemed necessary.  Now, concerns over the fire safety of the luxury electric-cars have been renewed following the Model S in Los Angeles.

The crash occurred over the July 4th weekend after a man stole a Model S from a Tesla service center and led police on a high-speed chase.  That chase ultimately ended in high impact crash;  the vehicle struck a steel pole.  The force of the impact split the vehicle in half and ignited the vehicle’s lithium ion battery.  Although he initially survived the accident, the driver ultimately died from injuries sustained in the accident. It is not, however, known at this time whether the fatal injuries were related to fire rather than the impact of the crash.

While these crashes certainly grab headlines given the high profile of Tesla Motors, it does not appear that electric vehicles are any less safe than gasoline-powered vehicles.  As the , in 2012, there were 172,500 vehicle fires in the United States resulting in 300 deaths, but none of the deaths involved electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles.  This is likely due to the fact that battery fires have a longer induction period than gasoline fires.  In other words, a lithium battery fire takes longer to get going – so the drivers have a better chance of escaping the vehicles.

It is notable that Model S does have a from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  Nevertheless, the fire issues certainly have had an affect on Tesla’s stock price.  Share prices took a 2.9 percent hit following the most recent accident.

Friday Links

688彩票官网america_vs_jsa

“I accuse the JSA of treason!” exclaims Batman on the cover of America Vs. The Justice Society #1, published not so long ago in 1985. Technically, wouldn’t the proper caption be “United States v. The Justice Society?” We here at Abnormal Use don’t practice in the federal criminal courts, but we seem to recall that it is always the “United States” listed as a party in that type of litigation. And does Batman have enough evidence as required by the U.S. Constitution? Whatever the case, :

The series was set on Earth-Two and began with the discovery of Batman’s diary (The pre-Crisis Earth-Two Bruce Wayne had been murdered by a criminal named Bill Jensen prior to this adventure as indicated in this story) which indicated that the Justice Society was guilty of treason during World War II and conspired to cover-up their treason after the war was over. The group is put on trial and their history is reviewed. All the historical adventures involving the JSA are remembered, and details are added. It eventually reveals that the diary is a hoax created by Batman in an effort to have the JSA apprehend Per Degaton at a future time that Batman believed he would not be alive for.

about the litigation his band is facing: “We’re going to trial and we want to crush them. But every time we’ve gotten close to going to trial, it gets postponed and we’ve wasted money and time and it has just drained our creative energy. We bought an insurance policy for peace of mind, but instead we would have been better off if we never had it and just dealt with the original lawsuit.”

GWB’s own Stuart Mauney has been appointed to a one year term as a member of the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs Advisory Committee. The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs has the mandate to educate the legal profession concerning alcoholism, chemical dependencies, stress, depression and other mental health issues. Don’t forget:  You can follow Stuart on Twitter . (Oh, and speaking of Stuart, you should go back in time and read his “Burned At Mediation By My Own Facebook Post!” blog entry from 2012.

Finally, there was a great turnout last night at the North Carolina Legal Geeks event at Charlotte, North Carolina’s Unknown Brewing 688彩票官网. North Carolina attorney Clark Walton spoke to the group about digital and smartphone forensics. If you’re into legal technology issues, .