Tuesday, January 25, 2011

public relations

Do you remember hearing about the woman who spilled McDonald's coffee on herself and then sued the company, winning 2.8 million dollars?

Did you know that the woman was 79 years old at the time?

Did you know that the coffee in the average home brewer is between 142 and 162 degrees, and that McDonald's required the temperature of their coffee to be held around 187 degrees (probably because coffee lasts longer at a higher temperature)?

Did you know that the structural integrity of Styrofoam is compromised at that temperature?

Did you know that when the woman placed the cup between her legs and peeled off the lid, the whole cup collapsed?

Did you know that she suffered 3rd degree burns on over 16% of her body from the spill?

Did you know that she had skin grafts due to the severity of the burns?

Did you know that after she realized that Medicare was only going to cover 80% of her medical bills, her daughter and son-in-law wrote a letter to McDonald's asking them to cover her remaining bill and to check the temperature of their coffee?

Did you know that, with left-over medical bills already in excess of $10,000, McDonald's came back with an offer of $800?

Did you know that it was McDonald's who then decided to go to jury trial after the woman and her family turned down their offer?

Did you know that McDonald's was not interested in settling for $50,000, but the family was?

Did you know that, up until then, New Mexico had never ruled in favor of the plaintiff in a product liability suit?

Did you know that, during trial, McDonald's brought up the fact that 700 people had been scalded by their coffee over a ten year period -- over one person a week -- to show that it was an insignificant occurrence?

Did you know that it was the judge who recommended to the jury to consider punitive damages because he was so incensed with what had gone on with McDonald's?

Did you know that the jury's award of 2.8 million was two days of coffee sales for McDonald's?

Did you know that, in the final decision, the judge reduced the amount of punitive damage to "three times compensatory"?

Did you know that corporations went on to use this "frivolous" incident to promote tort reform, which essentially restricts peoples rights to go to court and bring a lawsuit?
("tort reform is a term drummed up by some of the advertising people for the business sector." [...] "Ralph Nader calls it 'tort deform.' So, I guess reform is in the eyes of the beholder.")

Did you know that during the congressional hearings on tort reform, the McDonald's case was a primary reference? (ie, "[E]verybody knows the McDonald’s coffee case, therefore we need tort reform." [...] "It became the poster child for what’s wrong with people going to court and suing.")

"There has been a huge public relations campaign over the last 25 years to convince the public that we have too many frivolous lawsuits, that we have out-of-control juries, that we need to change our civil justice system, which is our third branch of government, where an average person can go head-to-head with the rich and powerful, with corporations. And people have a completely distorted view of our civil justice system because of this public relations campaign."

* * *

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, there was a very different reaction all over this country. I want to play again what we played in the billboard. I mean, you had every comic making fun.

CHARLES ALLEN: Absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: Made famous on Seinfeld.


: On Letterman.

JUDY LIEBECK: Still. Toby Keith has a song out right now called the "American Ride." And it says, "Spill a cup of coffee, make a million dollars."

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to the clip.

CRAIG FERGUSON: Every minute they waste on this frivolous lawsuit, they’re not able to waste on other frivolous lawsuits, like, "Ooh, my coffee was too hot!" It’s coffee!

MAN ON THE STREET 3: The woman, she purchased the coffee, and she spilled it on herself. I mean, it wasn’t like the McDonald’s employee took the coffee, threw it on her. Now, that, in itself, then she would have had a lawsuit.

WOMAN ON THE STREET 2: It’s just people just are greedy and want money, and they’ll do anything to get it.

* * *

Did you know that 19 year old Jamie Leigh Jones, who went to work for Halliburton in their IT department, was asked to sign an employment contract wherein there was embedded a mandatory arbitration clause?

Did you know that these clauses are in almost all of our contracts now? (Cell phone contracts, credit card contracts, car loans, mortgages, even some doctors are putting them in their consent clauses.)

Do you know what a mandatory arbitration clause is?

"[T]hey are literally contracts where people are asked to sign—oftentimes they don't even have a choice to sign. If you get a credit card, for example, and you use it, you’ve agreed to mandatory arbitration. People don't even know what it means, because it's something—no dispute has happened yet. But if you have agreed to that and then you have a dispute with the company or the entity, you have waived your right to the court system. And people say, "Well, why should I care about that?" Well, why you should care is because the company that you are having the dispute with, once you’ve signed that, they pick the decision maker, the arbitrator, they pay for the decision maker, the decision maker doesn't have to give a reason why they've come up with the decision, it's completely secretive, and there's no right to appeal. And what everyone is doing these days is they are literally voluntarily giving up their right to access the court system, and they don't even know they're doing it."

* * *

Did you know that Jamie Leigh Jones was drugged and gang-raped by several of her fellow employees at KBR, Inc. (a subsidiary of Halliburton, and formerly Kellogg Brown & Root)? [X]

Did you know that she was then confined (by armed guards) to a shipping container under the orders of her employer? (She was removed from KBR custody when US Agents were dispatched from the US Embassy in Baghdad and rescued her.)

Did you know that Jones' account was confirmed by U.S. Army physician Jodi Schultz, but the rape kit and evidence Schultz gave to KBR/Halliburton security forces subsequently disappeared? ("It was recovered two years later, but missing crucial photographs and notes.")

Did you know that when Jones filed a civil lawsuit against KBR, Halliburton, and Charles Boartz (the alleged known rapist), KBR requested a private arbitration, claiming that it was required by her employment contract?

Fortunately, on September 15, 2009, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans "ruled Jamie Leigh Jones' federal lawsuit against KBR and several affiliates can be tried in open court."

"On January 19, 2010, KBR petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the 5th Circuit decision allowing Jones to bring her case in a civil court rather than in arbitration." (Click HERE to read why the US Department of Justice has not brought criminal charges against the alleged assailants.)

"Jones testified before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary on October 7, 2009, concerning Senator Al Franken's amendment to the FY 2010 Defense Appropriations Bill, to restrict contracts with companies which use mandatory arbitration in their employment contracts. This measure was passed by the Senate, prompted by her case."

* * *

Except for the basic narrative of Jamie Leigh Jones' story, I learned all of this from today's Democracy Now! broadcast (the source of all the non-linked quotes). The details of the McDonald's coffee-spill-story, as well as the implications of the case, have been given recent attention by a documentary called Hot Coffee, which premiered this week at the Sundance film festival.

For an example of how corporations are starting to blatantly infiltrate and affect the judiciary, see the comments section.


Tyler said...

In 2 parts (due to length).

"SUSAN SALADOFF: This is Judge Oliver Diaz. Judge Diaz actually was a justice of the Mississippi State Supreme Court until he was targeted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for defeat because he wasn’t corporate enough.

AMY GOODMAN: OK, Judge Diaz, tell us your story and what happened.

OLIVER DIAZ: Well, I think people are very familiar with elections in America, and for years you’ve had corporations donating to the executive branch, presidents and governors, of the legislative branch, your House of Representatives and Senate. You’ve had massive amounts of funding, and people expect that when you have elections.

The judiciary, the judicial branch of government, has been separate from that for years and years. But what we’ve seen lately are these corporations coming in, putting money into judicial races, and they’re promoting candidates who tend to support corporate interest rather than a fair, level playing field for average persons. They’re actually putting money into the system in order to get people serving on the bench who would rule in the best interests of corporations rather than a fair judiciary.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about exactly what happened to you. You were running for your position—




AMY GOODMAN: Who was your opponent?

OLIVER DIAZ: Well, in Mississippi, Supreme Court elections are—Supreme Court races are by popular election. And I was appointed by the governor when there was a vacancy on the court and then had to stand for election. Folks had a chance to observe my judicial record, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce decided that they could get a better candidate for their interests rather than me. And they came into Mississippi at a time when this had never been done before and put millions of dollars into the election against me to support my opponent. It’s sort of—if you’re familiar with the Citizens United case at the U.S. Supreme Court recently, corporations were able to contribute massive amounts of money without having to disclose where those funds come from or even how much money they’ve put into the races in Mississippi. And so, I was faced with having to run an election with massive amounts of money coming in against me and having to raise the resources on my own to [inaudible]—

AMY GOODMAN: Yet, you did have to disclose who gave you money.

OLIVER DIAZ: I had to disclose every single penny that I raised. I had to disclose who I raised it from, how I spent it. Yet, corporations are able to come in and not have to disclose where their money comes from or how they spend it. Yeah, it’s really a disadvantage for candidates. And it’s going to start happening all across the country. This is not unique to Mississippi. This is the trend that’s going to happen across the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Yet, you won.

OLIVER DIAZ: I won. I did. I did win my first election.

AMY GOODMAN: Though, as your wife says in the film, what perhaps was one of the happiest days in your lives turned out to be one of the most catastrophic in the end.

OLIVER DIAZ: Exactly. We were able to prevail. Actually, it was a very close election, and it went into a runoff. There were three candidates, and we were in the top two, and we had to face a runoff. We ran for—in the election, which was three weeks after the general election, and were able to win in the runoff. But after the election, the U.S. attorney, who was appointed by George Bush—was a Republican congressman, a guy who had gotten defeated for Congress, and George Bush put him in for U.S. attorney—he then began to investigate Democratic donors to judicial races in Mississippi and began a prosecution of me at that time, a prosecution based upon my campaign contributions.

Tyler said...

AMY GOODMAN: And indicted you?

OLIVER DIAZ: And indicted, yes. I was indicted for bribery, actually, based upon the campaign contributions, because I had to disclose my campaign contributions. They were able to see who donated. They looked at my largest contributor, which was a very good friend of mine named Paul Minor. He was actually a major Democratic donor across the United States. He was one of John Edwards’ largest contributors at the time. And they began to investigate—

AMY GOODMAN: He co-signed a loan that you needed to take out to challenge the millions that your opponent was getting.

OLIVER DIAZ: Exactly. We weren’t able to raise enough to combat these millions that were coming in, and so we took out a loan from the bank. Mr. Minor co-signed that loan for my campaign. Because he was such a good friend of mine, I had never voted on a single case that he had before the Mississippi Supreme Court or me while I was on the bench. Yet, we were being investigated for bribery. I thought it was—I thought it would be an open-and-shut case. I said, "There’s no way they could even pursue this. They’re going to look at the record, and they’re going to see that I’ve never even voted on his cases."

AMY GOODMAN: But this took you off the bench.

OLIVER DIAZ: Took me off the bench for over three years.

AMY GOODMAN: And who replaced you?

OLIVER DIAZ: Well, I had to stand for election again. And again, the Chamber came in, put massive amounts of money against me, and I was defeated in the second election, because of—well, you could imagine the publicity that I had received while I was on the bench, and it was very difficult to overcome that.

AMY GOODMAN: What happened in the trial?

OLIVER DIAZ: I was completely acquitted in the trial. The jury found me not guilty of everything.

AMY GOODMAN: How long was the trial?

OLIVER DIAZ: The trial lasted about three months.

AMY GOODMAN: How long was the jury deliberation?

OLIVER DIAZ: The jury deliberation in the first trial, it lasted for a little while. We were completely acquitted. Three days after I was acquitted, I was re-indicted again. The federal prosecutor said, "Well, if it’s not bribery or campaign finance laws, he must have—he must have not properly disclosed this on his income, so we’re going to indict him for income tax evasion now." I was tried again, completely acquitted. Jury was out for about 15 minutes and found me not guilty of everything again.

AMY GOODMAN: But you lost the race.

OLIVER DIAZ: But did lose the race in the second time, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Did your opponent—did the original opponent end up in your seat?

OLIVER DIAZ: The original opponent, actually, I think he probably fared a little better. After I defeated him in the election, George Bush nominated him for a federal judgeship, and he’s now serving as a federal judge.

AMY GOODMAN: Did Karl Rove play any role in this? Because we have followed the case of the former Alabama governor, Don Siegelman—


AMY GOODMAN:—who went to jail, and Rove played a key role.

OLIVER DIAZ: Yes. You would be surprised at the similarities in the cases. We’ve since learned that this is sort of the MO that the Rove and the—his machine actually used. They came into the state of Texas and took over the Supreme Court there. Alabama, they did the same thing. And they used that as a launching pad to sort of pick off state Supreme Court justices all around the country, using that model." [X]