In late February, the United States Supreme Court held that a woman who tripped over her mail left on her porch rather than her mailbox can sue the United States Postal Service for personal injuries arising out of her fall. Today, I read an article in the Arizona Daily Star describing this lawsuit and immediately thought about the McDonalds case involving hot coffee spilled in the lap of an elderly lady. This comparison led me to think about another question which I’d like to ask: do you think that people file lawsuits more often today than we did twenty years ago? Let me know your thoughts.
By the way, I have some different thoughts about the McDonalds case. For those who may not recall, the McDonalds case involved an elderly woman who sued McDonalds because she suffered injuries after hot coffee spilled on her lap. I do not want to defend the position taken by either party in the McDonalds case or in any other case; that would not be fair. Instead, I trust our system of justice. I also trust juries and the appellate courts to make the right decisions about what is and is not frivolous. The jury in the McDonalds case heard all the evidence and made its decision based upon its evalutation of this evidence. While news accounts may lead me to think differently about the result, I do not think it fair to substitute my opinions for what the jury considered. The jury heard all evidence about past conduct, past warnings to McDonalds and the extent of injuries that the vicitm sustained and came back with its award. By the way, post trial actions led to a substantial reduction of the jury award. Indeed, rather than using the McDonalds case as evidence of the need for tort reform, I view the McDonalds case as validation of our system of justice and confirmation that it should not change. Now in Maricopa County, generally speaking, juries already view lawsuits with a conservative eye and considerable skepticism. Indeed, today in light of the McDonalds case, while a woman may be able to sue the United States Postal Service for injuries she sustained after falling over her mail, in my humble opinion, juries would not look too favorably on such a lawsuit believing instead that this woman must take personal responsibility for her actions. In some respects, because of the McDonalds case, jurors in Arizona already practice their own form of tort reform. The Association of Trial Lawyers of America has prepared a fact sheet about the McDonalds case. Click here if you are interested in reviewing more details about that interesting product liability case.