A lawyer-friend in northern Virginia (and our own counsel) told us that in almost any other state our granddaughter’s case would be incredibly strong—but not in Virginia. She shook her head in embarrassment, saying that in Virginia when a law is proposed that would make state or private institutions responsible for the violence on their grounds—when there is ample warning and it could be prevented—that law is voted down. The wealthy developers in Virginia open their pocket books and make generous donations to politicians. Judges are invited to exclusive golf outings—the protection of our children on school grounds becomes a “frivolous lawsuit.”
The more I researched the court decisions, trials, and media coverage of those legal actions, the more convinced I became that a disinformation campaign against the average citizen is underway. The sad truth is that most of the public is not well informed on the law and court decisions. What they know is filtered through the sensationalism of television and the press. The picture that began to emerge is one where wealthy business interests, ultra-conservative politicians and their sympathizers have orchestrated a campaign to define as “frivolous suits” any legal action that holds private business accountable.
A very potent and successful propaganda campaign has been pulled together to discredit personal injury cases. By selectively reporting on high profile cases, those who want to free all businesses of liability have been able to hoodwink the public and convince many Americans that the reason insurance premiums are high is the settlements. They don’t tell you about the huge bonuses and all-expenses paid travel of insurance company officials. Nor do they mention the lavish gifts, donations, and hunting trips that are given to politicians and judges.
The public is not told of some of the questionable practices of insurance companies in order to ring every last dime out of policyholders. I was reminded of an acquaintance that was once employed by a leading health insurance company. She was instructed to turn down a certain number of claims—even though the claims were legitimate. The reason the company used was that only a small percent of the policyholders would appeal or challenge the rejection. The company then pays those challenging, but the number who do not appeal is sufficient enough to help the company’s profits. This whole unethical conduct should cause Americans to question how closely should our health and our insurance in general should be tied to the draconian drive to inflate profits.
How many reading this book remember the McDonald’s incident when a woman was burned by hot coffee? How many read in the media the true facts? How many knew that McDonald’s boiled its coffee at scalding temperatures and had received over 700 claims from people who had been burned by their coffee between 1982 and 1992? Some of these complaints involved third degree burns. Despite these burns and these complaints, McDonalds continued to prepare its coffee at 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit to maintain maximum taste. Other restaurants prepare their coffee at substantial lower temperatures—135 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
How many know that the victim, Stella Liebeck, suffered third degree burns over six percent of her body—including her inner thighs, perineum, buttocks, and genital and groin areas. She underwent skin grafting during her eight days in the hospital. How many, if any, of the public know the true facts of any lawsuit? Our knowledge is filtered through people and interest groups who have an agenda. We know what the press and the legal profession want us to know.
How many newspapers carried stories about the arrogance of the McDonalds’ lawyers, arguing that the fast food chain serves $2.7 million in coffee every two days. The condescending and dismissive attitude of the McDonald’s lawyers was not lost on the jury. Apparently the jury decided that McDonalds’ pompous lawyers dictated the settlement and awarded Ms. Liebeck $2.7 million in punitive damages—just the amount McDonald’s makes on coffee in two days.
As a manager in the government I was trained on my responsibilities—professional and legal. On sexual harassment by one of my subordinates, I could be held responsible even if I did not know about it—because I should have known about it. If the law takes this firm a stand on an off-color joke or remark that can be interpreted as “harassment,” why is Virginia law so lax on workplace violence or murder? Not only should the law school have known about Odighizuwa’s violent tendencies—it did know about them. (To be continued)