- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 21, 2001

A lawyer recently urged a jury to give a verdict that would get his client on the top 10 list. This was a civil suit, and while compensation should have been paid, urging a jury to try to award enough money to qualify for the top 10 awards of the year seems to be a bit unethical considering the lawyer is going to get about one-third of the settlement he is lobbying the jury for. If we feel this is acceptable, perhaps the jurors might take 10 percent for handling.

There are those in the legal profession who think juries are sending a social message with these outrageous awards. Ever since the tobacco fiasco, we are seeing more and more multimillion-dollar awards, which in a high percentage of cases will probably never be paid. I believe that too many jurors look at industry and insurance companies as big fat cows waiting to be milked. I doubt if they ever stop to consider that, in the long run, the cost of these awards will be passed on to us.

I think it all started with the elderly woman who spilled that cup of McDonald's coffee in her lap and was awarded $2.9 million. She eventually settled for much less, but the resulting publicity has made targets out of every business that serves the public. In fact, the McDonald's case has happened once again. A woman is suing a McDonald's owner, Wal-Mart, a cup maker and cup holder maker, and her own mother over spilled coffee. Mom must have a hefty insurance policy.

It seems the woman went to the drive-through, and claims the coffee that was served was too hot, tumbled out of a cup holder in her mothers car, and burned her ankle, leaving a scar. The cup holder was purchased at Wal-Mart, whose defense will probably be that they don't make cup holders for scalding coffee. The car belonged to the woman's mother, and I don't know what her defense will be, but she should immediately take the daughter out of her will and cross her off her "people to lend your car to" list.

I guess all of the defendants will try to prove that the woman must have been driving erratically to cause the cup to come out of the holder. The suit against the woman's mother states that the mother "owed a duty of care for the safety of others riding in her vehicle." How would you like to have a child like that? Let this be a lesson to those of you who let your children drive your car. Find a lawyer to draft up a release, and make the little bugger sign it before they pull out of the driveway.

I know that many of these frivolous lawsuits get thrown out early in the game, but there doesn't seem to be much of a penalty involved for wasting the court's time. There are simply too many lawyers in this country with nothing to do. We see them advertising every night on television, begging us to sue someone who has done us wrong. Have you fallen down, did someone look at you cross-eyed? Whatever, give us a call and you may end up on easy street. It was much better when we depended on word of mouth.

Dick Boland is a nationally syndicated columnist

Dick Boland is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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