May 18, 2019

A Ghostwriter For Online Dating

Her name is Meredith Golden. She’s 43 years old and lives in New York with her husband and two sons. She has a master’s degree in social work from New York University. According to a recent article in The New York Times, Golden is a professional dating app ghostwriter. The article provided the following summary of what services Golden offers to her clients:

May 11, 2019

Barbie Dolls vs Baby Dolls

After I published last week’s article about the 60th anniversary of the Barbie doll, my mom called me on my cell phone. I wasn’t available when she called, so she left a message. In the message, she said that she had read my article and that in addition to her concern about her daughters’ self-images being affected by the Barbie doll, she was also concerned that with the introduction of a teenage, sexualized version of a doll, there would never be a return to the days when young girls were encouraged to play with baby dolls.

April 20, 2019

Who is the Real King?

While I was preparing to write this article, I went to YouTube and watched the opening theme of a weekly TV show that aired on NBC from 1966 to 1968. When the show began in 1966, I was nine years old. I’m referring to Tarzan, a TV show that I watched with my younger brothers every Friday night.

March 30, 2019

Religious Extremists and the Vietnam War

I ordinarily attend daily Mass at Sacred Heart Church in downtown Peoria. Last Monday (March 25), I saw my parents at noon Mass and talked to them after the Mass. My mom told me that it was the 58th anniversary of her consecration to the Mother of God. I knew that she had made her consecration years ago, but I was not aware of the actual date.

March 16, 2019

When a Promise Really Isn’t a Promise

Last week, while I was at a local doctor’s office, one of the women who worked there surprised me by asking, “Are you the same Harry Williams who taught business law at Illinois Central College during the 1980s?” I looked at the woman and did not recognize her. I then answered, “Yes, were you in my class?” She replied, “Yes, and I really enjoyed that class.” We then had a short conversation about what she liked about the class.

As I walked out of the doctor’s office, my mind flashed back to the mid-1980s, when I taught Business Law at ICC. I spent a lot of time preparing for that class, but it was worth it. The young, fresh-faced students were captivated by the stories I told about my experience as a lawyer. To make the class more interesting, I intentionally wove stories throughout the material I presented to them. This made an otherwise boring class into an adventure into the inner workings of our justice system.

One of the things that I taught my students was the four basic elements that are required before a contract can be legally binding between two parties. The four elements are:

1. Offer – a promise to act or refrain from acting.

March 9, 2019

Reasons to Value and Protect Hope

On December 12, 2018, Jessica Starr, a popular 35-year-old meteorologist at the Detroit, Michigan WJBK Fox television station, committed suicide.

Last month, Jessica’s husband, Dan Rose, and her mother, Carol Starr, were interviewed on the ABC television show, Good Morning America. Both Dan and Carol said that they believed that Jessica killed herself because of complications that were caused by laser surgery that she had on her eyes in October 2018.

During the interview, Dan stated, “She really knew something was not right within a matter of days. She started to complain of incredibly dry eyes. She had almost no night vision. She had starbursts that she was seeing during the day and at night.”

Carol stated that after the surgery, Jessica lost a significant amount of weight. “I kept saying, ‘Are you eating? Are you okay?’ She kept saying, ‘I’m not eating and I’m not sleeping, Mom. This is worrying me. I don’t think it’s going to get better,’” said Carol.

The surgery that Jessica went through was similar to Lasik eye surgery. The name of the surgery was SMILE, which is an acronym for “small incision lenticule extraction.” With SMILE, a laser is used to make a small opening on the eye to remove a layer of tissue. The removal of the tissue corrects nearsightedness by reshaping the cornea. SMILE surgery is supposed to be less invasive than Lasik.

During the weeks following her surgery, Jessica posted several video diaries on her Facebook page where she talked about complications she was having as a result of the surgery. One of her complaints was that the dryness in her eyes was so bad that she had to use eye drops every five minutes to lubricate her eyes.

When she died, Jessica left behind her husband and two children, a five-year-old and three-year-old.

After her death, Jessica’s family, friends, and coworkers were all in a state of shock. She had never talked about committing suicide. They later concluded that Jessica experienced extreme depression and anxiety about her chronically dry eyes, her lack of night vision, and the starbursts that she was seeing during her waking hours.

Whenever a person experiences chronic pain and/or suffering, there is a possibility that the person will lose hope for the future. This is something that I always talk about when I present an injured client’s case to a jury.

Here’s an example of what I ordinarily say to a jury when I have a client who is experiencing chronic pain and suffering:

The only other thing that I’m going to mention about pain and suffering before I move on is that both pain and suffering interrupt hope for the future. We were all created with a desire for hope.

March 2, 2019

Why Do We Remember Suffering Forever?

Last week, I wrote about what I say to a jury to introduce them to the concept of placing a value on pain and suffering. I discussed how a dollar “value” was once placed on individual slaves, and how property that has been damaged is valued. I provided examples of how we value a damaged washer and dryer, a damaged vehicle, an injured racehorse, and a partially burned famous painting.

I ended by asking, “What happens when my body is damaged to such an extent that I am in pain all the time? What is that pain worth? And what if in addition to the pain that I’m having, I’m suffering? What is the suffering worth?”

As a general rule, jurors feel uncomfortable about awarding money for pain and suffering. For some, there are Christian principles they were taught that cause them to frown upon people who go to court to obtain money for an injury. For others, there are beliefs that find fault with going to court to obtain money for an injury. These principles and beliefs usually soften and change when a person or someone who the person loves is permanently injured because of another person’s negligence.

I specifically address these issues in my closing argument because it would be very risky for me to allow a jury to deliberate on the value of my client’s case without walking them through the reasons why our system of justice is the only fair and rational way to deal with a situation in which a person has been permanently injured as a result of another person’s negligence.

Before I move on to the topic of pain and suffering, I want to emphasize that everything I say to a jury in a closing argument must be backed up and supported by what the jury heard and learned from the witnesses and the documents that were introduced into evidence. It is rare that a jury of 12 people can be fooled. Their collective knowledge, skills, experiences, and memories of the evidence that was presented in the case usually lead them to collectively make the correct decision in a case.

With regard to the issue of pain and suffering, I have an analogy that I use in my closing arguments to help put my client’s pain and suffering into perspective for the jury. It goes something like this:

Sometimes I wish we had a device — maybe someday we will — that has two handles on one side and two handles on the other side. The device would be used to transfer pain from one person to another. My client, Jane, could walk up to the device and hold the handles and I could walk over and hold the handles on the other side. The device would have the ability to transfer Jane’s pain from her to me, so I could feel what she was experiencing.

February 23, 2019

The “Value” of Human Pain and Suffering

Last week, I wrote about a client who was hit by a car while she was crossing the street, and another client who was hit by a car while she was walking on the side of the road. I explained that under Illinois law, the two women are entitled to reimbursement of their medical bills, lost wages for the time that they are unable to work, and other expenses that are related to their injuries. They are also entitled to receive compensation for their present and future pain and suffering. I also discussed the McDonald’s coffee case and explained the difficulty that lawyers have in presenting the topic of pain and suffering to a jury. Today, I’m going to discuss how I explain to a jury the “value” of a person’s pain and suffering.

For the purpose of this discussion, I’m going to provide you with some background information about a previous client — I’ll call her Jane — who had an injury to her low back as a result of a rear-end collision. For two years after the collision, Jane received treatment for her injuries, which included pain medication, physical therapy, chiropractic adjustments, and localized injections to alleviate the pain.

After two years of treatment, Jane was still suffering from pain in her back. She went to bed every night and woke up every morning with back pain. She also had problems climbing stairs in her house and was no longer able to lift her young grandchildren because of her back pain. She also experienced severe pain when she was intimate with her husband and experienced additional pain for at least three days after each time that she worked in her garden. Before the collision, Jane and her husband went on several road trips each year to different antique car shows where they would socialize with friends and check out all the cars that were on display.

Jane’s injury occurred while she was on her way to an Avanti’s restaurant. She was hit from behind by a City of Peoria truck while she was stopped on University Street, waiting to turn left into the parking lot of Avanti’s. Her left turn signal had been activated, and she was waiting for oncoming traffic to pass before she could make her turn. The driver of the truck was a city employee who was a decent guy who simply was not paying attention to what he was doing. He had turned to look at something that was occurring on the side of the road and when he refocused his attention on where it should have been, Jane had already stopped. He slammed on his brakes, but it was too late for him to stop without crashing into the rear of Jane’s vehicle.

Jane subsequently received extensive treatment for her back and while her condition improved, she never completely recovered. Despite the treatment that she received, she ended up having all the problems that I described above.

After I submitted Jane’s medical records and bills to the City of Peoria, the city refused to make a settlement offer. I had no choice but to file a lawsuit against the city on Jane’s behalf. After litigating the case for a couple of years, the city attorney who was assigned to the case made an insultingly low settlement offer. When I complained about how unreasonable the offer was, she told me that she had recommended a higher settlement amount to her boss, but he refused to authorize her to offer that amount to settle the case.

The case ended up going to trial in front of a jury of 12 people. After the evidence was presented to the jury in the form of testimony and documents, such as medical bills and pictures of the damaged vehicles, I had a chance to stand in front of the jury and make a closing argument. The jury ended up awarding a significant amount of money to my client — much more than what my client was willing to settle the case for before the trial.

Over the years, I’ve developed a very thorough presentation of what pain and suffering is and how the value should be placed on pain and suffering. When it’s time to discuss pain and suffering, I start out by asking a few simple questions:

How do we place a value on pain and suffering? What’s the value of a human being? What’s the loss in value of a person who is no longer able to do the things she was able to do before she was injured?

February 16, 2019

Pain and Suffering and the McDonald’s Coffee Case

Last week, a young woman hired me to represent her on a case in which she was injured when she was hit by a car. The incident occurred while she was walking to work. As she was walking on the shoulder of a road near the parking lot of a local business, a car suddenly darted out of the parking lot, crossed two lanes of traffic, and hit her. The front bumper of the car hit her on the right side of her knee, causing her to fall and hit her head on the ground.

After the impact, the driver of the car stopped her car, looked at the woman while she was trying to get up from where she had fallen, and then fled the scene of the accident. Fortunately for the woman, she had the presence of mind to look at the license plate number of the car as it sped away. She then pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and typed in the license number of the vehicle.

The incident happened at around 7:30 in the morning in an area where there was a minimal amount of traffic. After being hit, the woman walked a couple of blocks to her place of employment. While she was walking, she had severe pain in her right knee and throbbing pain in her head. When she arrived at her place of employment, she explained what had happened to a fellow employee. The employee made her sit down to take the pressure off her knee.

The women then dialed 911 and reported the incident to the police department. Shortly thereafter, a police officer and an ambulance arrived. A collar was placed around her neck, and she was put on a stretcher. She was then transported to the emergency room of one of the local hospitals. A CT scan of her head was taken, and her right knee was X-rayed.

The results of the CT scan were normal, and the X-ray did not indicate that there were any broken bones. While she was at the hospital, the police officer stopped by and told her that he had been able to use the license plate number to identify the driver of the vehicle. He said that he talked to the driver at her home and gave her two traffic citations.

Earlier this year, another young woman hired me to represent her after she was hit by a vehicle. The incident occurred while she was crossing the street at an intersection. At the time of the incident, she was in the crosswalk and had the “Walk” message. The car that hit her was being driven by a business professional who was talking on her cell phone while she was driving.

The driver didn’t see the woman when she turned left at the intersection. The front of the car hit the woman’s right side, causing the women to flip up onto the hood of the car. She then fell onto the street with such force that her head hit the pavement. As a result of the collision, the woman injured her knee, had bruises on her right leg and hip, and also had a severe headache.

The woman was checked out at the hospital and was subsequently fitted with a custom knee brace. She is currently receiving therapy to reduce the swelling and stiffness in her knee. She is scheduled to have surgery on her knee next month.

With both of the cases that I just described, because of the negligence (carelessness) of the drivers of the vehicles, both of my clients are legally entitled to reimbursement of their medical bills, lost wages for the time that they are unable to work, and other expenses that are related to their injuries. They are also entitled to receive compensation for their present and future pain and suffering. If they do not fully recover from their injuries, they will also be entitled to compensation for their future estimated medical bills.

While the women’s injury claims are against the drivers of the vehicles, it will be the responsibility of the insurance companies that insured the vehicles to pay a lump sum settlement after the women have completed their treatment. If the insurance companies are willing to be reasonable, settlements will be achieved on both cases and a lump sum payment will be made on each case to compensate the women for their injuries.

If the insurance companies are not willing to be reasonable, a lawsuit will have to be filed against the drivers of the vehicles and the insurance companies will then be required to hire a law firm to defend the cases.

One to the difficulties that lawyers have in settling injury cases is that unless there are catastrophic injuries in which a person is severely injured (broken bones, deformities, etc.), insurance companies place very little value on the pain and suffering component of each case. The primary reason for this is because when injury cases are actually filed in court and presented to a jury of 12 people, the individuals on the jury do not ordinarily place a high value on pain and suffering, unless there were severe injuries.

One of the problems that lawyers have in asking jurors to place a high value on pain and suffering is that the jurors have been conditioned throughout their lives to believe that our system of justice unfairly rewards people who falsely claim that they have been injured. For jurors who are over the age of 50, the case that is always used in their minds as justification for discounting a person’s pain and suffering is the McDonald’s coffee case.

The McDonald’s coffee case received national attention in 1994 when a jury awarded $2.9 million in punitive (punishment) damages to an 81-year-old woman who had suffered from third-degree burns on her legs after spilling a cup of scalding hot coffee that had been purchased from a McDonald’s drive-thru in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The evidence in that case showed that the McDonald’s operations manual required that its coffee be heated to 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit and that over a period of 10 years, there had been more than 700 reported cases in which customers had suffered from third-degree burns because of spilled coffee. The jury awarded punitive damages because of McDonald’s callous disregard for its customers.

Even though McDonald’s was aware of the danger that its customers were exposed to, it failed to reduce the temperature of its coffee and failed to notify its customers of the severe danger of its scalding hot coffee. The $2.9 million award was the equivalent of two days of national profits from the sale of McDonald’s coffee. The woman’s lawyer had offered to settle the case for $20,000 before the trial and McDonald’s refused to pay that amount to get the case settled. The $2.9 million jury verdict was reduced after trial by the judge by 80 percent.

After the McDonald’s coffee verdict, insurance companies and the media hammered away at how our system of justice was broken and was costing consumers millions of dollars in additional insurance premiums. Their primary message to the public was that people were using the court system as a lottery in which they could cash in if they successfully claimed that they had been injured.

Today’s jurors and judges are suspicious and cynical about individuals who come into court and ask for compensation for injuries. Many of them have bought into the argument that if they award a lot of money to an injured person, their insurance premiums will go up and so-called injured people will be rewarded for their dishonesty.

These are the factors that I have to consider when I present a case to a jury. If I have a client who was legitimately injured and has not fully recovered from their injuries, what can I do to overcome the long-established bias and opinions of jurors who have been conditioned to believe that most people are faking their injuries, so they can get money from a jury? How am I supposed to overcome the negative thoughts that are going through jurors’ minds when they are listening to testimony that my client is still experiencing pain from an injury that took place two or three years ago?

I’ve made it a practice to specifically address these issues during the case and during my closing argument. I actually stand in front of the jury and discuss the McDonald’s coffee case and how the case should not have any impact on the compensation that my client is entitled to receive. I also spend a good amount of time discussing how pain differs from suffering and what the impact of both pain and suffering is on my client’s life.

Next week, I’m going to explain how I present the topic of pain and suffering to a jury and how pain is different from suffering. I’m going to also discuss how suffering is an integral and important part of every person’s life, how society generally views suffering as an evil, and why devout Catholics view suffering as a necessary component of salvation.