There was a time when I considered our judicial system fair, most likely to get it right, non-political and well above triviality and bias. I can no longer make that claim. North American jurisprudence is deeply flawed and borders, at times, on being illogical-almost free falling. What is in effect one day seems to get tossed out the next. There isn’t any continuity in the application of the law and if mankind needs anything right now it is continuity and the knowledge that the law will be applied equally no matter who you are and what you own. Sadly this is no longer the case.
The following are some shining examples of TRUE-verified cases of frivolous lawsuits that were heard in court. Self serving cases like these got headlines and seemed to open the flood gates for other ‘settlement driven’ cases. These cases are all about money and very little about justice. Perhaps the recipients need to give 50% of their award to a charity of their choice making sure to cover their expenses first. (The following examples were written by Deborah Ng of the ‘Legal Zoom’ publication)
In February 1992, Stella Liebeck ordered a cup of coffee to go from McDonalds. Liebeck was sitting in the passenger seat of her nephew’s car, which was pulled over so she could add sugar to her coffee. While removing the cup’s lid, Liebeck spilled her hot coffee, burning her legs. It was determined that Liebeck suffered third degree burns on over six percent of her body. Originally, Liebeck sought $20,000 in damages. McDonalds refused to settle out of court. However, they should have. Liebeck was ultimately awarded $200,000 in compensatory damages, which was reduced to $160,000 because she was found to be twenty percent at fault. She was also awarded $2.7 million in punitive damages.
In September 1988, two Akron, Ohio-based carpet layers named Gordon Falker and Gregory Roach were severely burned when a three and a half gallon container of carpet adhesive ignited when the hot water heater it was sitting next to kicked on. Both men felt the warning label on the back of the can was insufficient. Words like “flammable” and “keep away from heat” didn’t prepare them for the explosion. They filed suit against the adhesive manufacturers, Para-Chem. A jury obviously agreed since the men were awarded $8 million for their troubles.
In 1997, Larry Harris of Illinois broke into a bar owned by Jessie Ingram. Ingram, the victim of several break-ins, had recently set a trap around his windows to deter potential burglars. Harris, 37, who was under the influence of both alcohol and drugs, must have missed the warning sign prominently displayed in the window. He set off the trap as he entered the window, electrocuting himself. The police refused to file murder charges. Harris’s family saw it differently, however, and filed a civil suit against Ingram. A jury originally awarded the Harris family $150,000. Later, the award was reduced to $75,000 when it was decided Harris should share at least half of the blame.
Granted that these cases are from the 90’s-quite a while ago but the fact remains that we have become increasingly more litigious not less so. Many people are looking for that ‘retirement case’ to lock in their future financial concerns. But other more serious cases come to mind. OJ Simpson literally got away with murder only to become a victim of his own sense of entitlement when he kidnapped a guy who dealt with some of his memorabilia and then hung around to get arrested and charged with kidnapping. Bye bye OJ. Not the sharpest knife in the drawer.(No pun intended)
Then there was the kid from a wealthy family who lived in Texas who got away with killing 4 people blaming it on ‘affluenza’ (they even created a word to get him off the charge). He and some friends apparently stole a couple of cases of beer, got drunk, hit four people along side of the road where their car had broken down. His alcohol limit was twice the legal limit, he was speeding, obviously driving recklessly, pled guilty to manslaughter charges and was given 10 years probation with NO time served or to be served. Money talks loudly. He was seen as being ‘a spoiled brat who knew no boundaries and accepted no responsibility for his actions.’ So said his psychologist.
More recently there is the Mike Duffy/Pamela Wallin fiasco. This case demonstrates all that is wrong with the judicial system. They are thieves and yet neither will see a day behind bars. You or I–10 years minimum. It pays to have friends in high places.
The system needs an immediate overhaul. The power that magistrates and judges now have to interpret the meaning of the law has distanced the rule of law way beyond the realm of reason and often does not ensure public safety as it should. Frivolous lawsuits, especially, have come to be a draw on the court system and a mockery of what is our last front for equality. We need to create a panel system similar to the grand jury idea in the US where cases are brought forth, judged on the merits of the case in question and then it is decided if it goes further or not. As it is our children see us ‘mocking’ the system and consequently have little or no respect for law and order.
The scales have certainly shifted when our freedoms can be curtailed by the courts and that got me thinking that in order for someone to gain some freedom it usually means that someone has lost, had to give up or had some freedom taken away. Lord’s Prayer in schools comes to mind. Not everyone is covered by the same set of rules as others now. That is dangerous to us all.
I wonder how far we will let this go?
Anyways, that’s how I see it.
All the best, Jim
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