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March 13, 2004

Kudos for Gov. Perry

By Byron LaMasters

Considering everything that's happened in the past few weeks, and the fact that Gov. Perry has said that this website "denegrates the political process", I thought that I'd do something a little different. Maybe a little radical. Call me crazy. Yeah, I'm going to do something I don't think I've ever done before, and I doubt that I'll do again for a long time, but I'm going to pay Rick Perry a compliment. Yesterday, Rick Perry commuted the death sentence of a mentally retarded man:

Gov. Rick Perry has commuted the death sentence of a Harris County inmate with mental retardation. It is Perry's first reduction of a death sentence since becoming governor in 2000 and the first since 1998, when then-Gov. George W. Bush commuted the sentence of Henry Lee Lucas after the death row inmate recanted hundreds of murder confessions.

Kudos to Rick Perry. It's an absolute disgrace that the state of Texas allows the execution of juveniles and of mentally retarded persons. I have mixed feelings about the death penalty (although I generally oppose it), but I think that it's completely immoral to execute juveniles and mentally retarded people. Rick Perry did the right thing in commuting this sentence, and he ought to be commended.

Posted by Byron LaMasters at March 13, 2004 02:02 PM | TrackBack


File this one under:

Amazing Things Republicans Have Done With Which I Wholeheartedly Agree

...along with establishing that OBESE PEOPLE cannot sue McDonald's for making them that way!

Posted by: Deanocrat at March 13, 2004 09:54 PM

While I generally agree with the fact that the "fatso suits" are BS, the junk food manufacturers are offering Faustian deals to school districts.

Basically, it's money for access to developing consumers of food.

I call it the gastronomic equivalent of child molestation.

For adults, it's their own responsibility, but they are targeting kids in elementary schools, and bribing school districts to do so.

Posted by: Matthew Saroff at March 13, 2004 10:33 PM

This is another example of a solution in search of a problem. While "fatso" lawsuits make interesting media coverage, they are VERY rare, maybe only a handful in the entire country. Every one of them has rather expeditiously been dismissed.

In sum, the legal system has adquate methods of disposing of such suits (with sanctions too). Why then the rush to categorically grant immunity for these suits? The answer is to create a domino effect. Once you categorically exempt one industry from any legal liability, it becomes easier to do it the next time, and the next, and the next, etc.

Do not be fooled. This is a first step towards erasing all corporate accountability for any harm they do, whether it be producing dangerous drugs, cars, whatever.

By the way, another poster child is the infamous McDonalds (coffee spill) case. Just so everyone knows the real facts about the "McDonald's" case, here goes:

The Plaintiff suffered THIRD DEGREE burns on her crotch and genital area from the scalding coffee. This was hardly a mere inconvenience. How would you like to have your genitals scalded with third degree burns?

McDonalds reps testified that they served the coffee in the take out line at almost 100 DEGREES HOTTER than is safe to drink. McDonald's claimed the reason was that customers drank the coffee at home and the coffee had to be hot enough so that when it cooled down, it was still hot enough. However, McDonalds' own customer research revealed that the overwhelming majority of drive thru customers drank the coffee in the car (which is intuitive I think).

Put this together, and you have a company that intentionally hands someone a scalding hot (not just really hot, but absolutely, dangerously hot) product in a flimsy wax paper cup with no insulation though a car window. It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that pretty soon, that coffee is going to spill and cause some major damage. (The customer, on the other hand, can expect to be handed hot coffee, but CANNOT expect to be handed coffee that is ca. 100 degrees hotter than is safe to drink).

The actual damages were severe, tens of thousands of dollars for medical bills, and probably another few tens of thousands for the pain and suffering of THIRD DEGREE burns on your privates.

The punitive damages were awarded because McDonalds absolutely knew that they were serving coffee that is ca. 100 degrees hotter than is safe to drink and handing it to people through a car window in an uninsulated wax paper cup with no warning of exactly how hot the coffee really is. They KNEW that their conduct would result in somthing like this and completely ignored the risk. The punitives were calculated by computing the company's profit from coffee sales for some period of time (I do not recall if it was a day, week, or month), which in the grand scheme of things is nto a lot. Remember, punitive damages are to deter conduct, so they have to be large enough to make the Defendant not want to do it again. A $2,000 punitive award against a mom & pop business would do the same trick, but McDonalds would laugh off such a sum, so it had to be higher.

Many people were upset because they blamed the woman for burning herself. They did not have all the facts that the coffee was ca. 100 degrees hotter than is safe to drink and she had third degree burns on her genitals. Yet, even if you believe the woman is at fault, liability and damages are two different things. IF you accept that McDonalds was liable and reckless in serving the coffee that hot, knowing injiury would result, the dollar figure is not unreasonable - actual damages were severe and if McDonalds is to be punished, it takes a lot of money to do that.

In addition, the dollar amount was SUBSTANTIALLY reduced by the trial judge so that the Plaintiff did not receive the multi million dollar award that people believed.

This all could have been avoided if McDonalds would have paid her medical bills, which she was willing to settle for - yet they refused.

Morale of the story: Do not believe all of the tort reform BS that the media loves to spew off about. I invite ANY ONE OF YOU to subscribe to the many "trial report" services for the major counties in this State (TX) and you will see that over and over and over again, jury verdicts are VERY LOW. In fact, they are really unfairly low. All this BS about "run away" juries if a myth.

Posted by: WhoMe? at March 14, 2004 10:37 PM

I have been fascinated with the Mcdonald's/Liebeck case for some time. Mostly because everyone else is obsessed with it (particularly in Europe, where I now live). The case stands for all that is bad about the U.S. system.

Or does it? After all, it is a case that was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. Aside from a well-written Wall Street Journal article and an unofficial one-page summary in Westlaw, we don't even really know any of the details about what truly happened.

So why not focus on real cases, where we can track the facts and make comments based on reality not conjecture? This is the point of a student article that I wrote last year, available on SSRN at http://ssrn.com/abstract=545243. Our legal system is not without its faults; however, I believe that we should elevate the discussion to real cases with discernable facts.

Posted by: Patrick at May 14, 2004 05:28 PM
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