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American Society Today.  Stella Liebeck spilled McDonald’s coffee on her lap, was burned, and sued  Jury awarded Liebeck $2.9m ◦ $160,00 compensatory.

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Presentation on theme: "American Society Today.  Stella Liebeck spilled McDonald’s coffee on her lap, was burned, and sued  Jury awarded Liebeck $2.9m ◦ $160,00 compensatory."— Presentation transcript:

1 American Society Today

2  Stella Liebeck spilled McDonald’s coffee on her lap, was burned, and sued  Jury awarded Liebeck $2.9m ◦ $160,00 compensatory damages (80% fault) ◦ $2.7m punitive damages  Reactions?

3  The other side of the story ◦ Liebeck was 79 and wearing sweatpants ◦ The coffee was degrees  Coffee served at home is generally 135 to 140 degrees  Liquids can cause third-degree burns to skin in:  2 to 3 seconds at 190 degrees  12 to 15 seconds at 180 degrees  20 seconds at 160 degrees ◦ Suffered third-degree burns over her inner thighs, perineum, buttocks, and genital and groin areas. ◦ Was hospitalized for eight days and underwent skin grafting and debridement treatments ◦ Was permanently disfigured and disabled for two years ◦ $11,000 in medical costs

4  The other side of the story, cont’d ◦ McDonald’s had previously stated, it “was aware of this risk... and had no plans to turn down the heat” ◦ At trial, McDonald’s own quality assurance manager testified that its coffee was not “fit for consumption” because it would cause scalding injuries to the mouth and throat if drunk by the consumer ◦ McDonald’s had settled more that 700 similar claims in previous 10 years for over $500,000 ◦ Before filing suit, Liebeck requested that McDonald’s pay $90,000 for her medical expenses and pain and suffering.  McDonald’s countered with an offer of$800. ◦ Mediator recommended a $225,000 settlement

5  The other side of the story, cont’d ◦ Punitive damages were reduced by the trial court to $480,000 ◦ Final total award of $640,000 ◦ Settled for less than $600,000  How does this information change your perception of the Liebeck case, juries, and courts?

6  The media has two primary roles: ◦ Reporting  Convey the activities of the government  Most prominent in coverage of the judiciary ◦ Facilitating Dialogue  Providing a forum for the exchange of ideas  Most prominent in the political (legislative and executive) context

7  Approximately 80% of Americans get their news information from television or the internet as opposed to radio or newspaper.  A majority of American households have access to cable television.  Few Americans have the requisite “media literacy” to be able to fully understand the medium of television and how it can the view and society in major ways.

8  Media coverage of the judiciary differs from the two other branches of government: ◦ Judicial deliberations and decision making are conducted in private  Each network and major newspaper has one or more Supreme Court reporters, usually attorneys.

9  Americans have always had a keen interest in trials.  News producers tend to select and repeat the most sensational image and sound bite from a story or trial.  Federal court three year study of 90 trials found the average newscast included only 17 seconds.  Num=1&vendor=ez&qu=trial Num=1&vendor=ez&qu=trial  Court TV, a cable news channel, has changed the scene somewhat with a mix of over 400 sensational and ordinary trials, but even it usually does not broadcast the entire trial.

10  Plaintiff: A court case starts with the plaintiff. The plaintiff feels wronged in some way and brings the case to court.  Defendant: In a criminal case, the person charged with a crime is the defendant. In a civil case, the defendant is accused by the plaintiff of some harm.  Prosecutor: The prosecutor, usually the county attorney, brings charges in criminal cases and is responsible for prosecuting defendants on behalf of the public.  Defense attorney: In a criminal trial, the defense attorney represents the defendant accused of a crime. In a civil trial, the defense attorney represents the defendant against whom a civil lawsuit is filed.  Witnesses: these are people brought to court by either the Plaintiff or the Defendant to testify on a certain issue. Often, there are expert witnesses who provide the decision maker with their educated analysis on a given issue.

11  Judge: The judge presides over the hearing to make sure that the rules and procedures are followed to ensure that justice is done. The judge has the final decision-making authority for imposing sentences in most criminal cases and penalties in civil cases. If there is no jury, the judge also decides what are the relevant facts in the case and what laws should be applied to the facts.  Jury: Citizens are selected at random to serve on juries. Jurors listen to the case and decide the facts. However, the judge always decides which laws apply to the case. In a criminal case the jury decides if the defendant is guilty or not guilty. However, the judge imposes the sentence. In a civil case the jury decides if the defendant has caused damage to the plaintiff. The jury may recommend an award of money to the plaintiff.  Court reporter: The court reporter records everything that is said by the participants in a court proceeding. That includes testimony of witnesses, questions of attorneys and objections raised by the attorneys. A word-for-word record, or transcript, is made by the court reporter. If a case is appealed to a higher court, the transcript is used to review what happened in the trial court.  Law Clerk: These are usually individuals straight out of law school who work for the judge on a yearlong basis. The clerks help the judge in his research and drafting opinions for the court.

12  In both state and federal appeals courts and supreme courts there are fewer people in the courtroom. Usually the people in the courtroom consists of: ◦ Plaintiff & Attorney ◦ Defendant & Attorney ◦ Judges/Justices

13  Gradually, the admission of cameras into state and local courtrooms across the United States is offering people a more in depth look at the judicial system.  The United States Supreme Court and Minnesota Courts are not following these trends.

14  1935: Bruno Hauptmann trial, cameras are banned after chaotic atmosphere results from their presence.  1937: The A.B.A. recommends against cameras in the courtroom in response to Hauptmann trial.  1965: Estes v. Texas, the Supreme Court rules that presence of cameras in the courtroom during the trial violates due process for the defendant.

15  1976: a number of states being experimenting with cameras in the courtroom.  1981: Chandler v. Florida, the U.S. Supreme Court abandons any idea that cameras at trial per se violates the Constitution, the justices decide that federalism allows the state to choose.  1982: ABA reverses its position on cameras in the courtroom

16  1992: Federal Courts begin a three year experiment with cameras in the courtroom  : O.J. Simpson Trial  1999: Bill Clinton Impeachment ◦ The work of the Independent Counsel Ken Starr and grand juries investigating whitewater attracted attention.  2000: Supreme Court hears Bush v. Gore and allows the cameras to watch oral arguments.  2005: Michael Jackson child molestation trial.  : Anna Nicole Smith paternity trial.

17  Number off into fours ◦ Half of the groups are against cameras in the courtroom ◦ Half of the groups are in favor of cameras in the courtroom  Use the Handouts to help you structure your arguments

18  Does televising trial improve or worsen the public perception of the law?  How do you think cameras impact the behavior of attorneys, witnesses, judges, and juror?  Do cameras turn trial into entertainment spectacles, and if so, should this be allowed?  Should the defendant have a right to veto the presence of cameras if they believe it will impede their ability to have a fair trial? Witnesses? Families of Victims?


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