Sunday, November 26, 2006

Doing My Stupid Civic Duty (kicks pebble)

So how was your Thanksgiving? Mine went swimmingly until Saturday night, when I discovered a jury duty summons waiting for me in the mail. It’s for state superior court in a grubby city a few miles east from me.

A summons. That puts a definite damper on holiday spirit, but the timing could be worse; the one I got for federal duty two years ago arrived on Christmas Eve. I suppose I could wax poetic about how jury obligations are the heroic privileges of the free citizenry of a republic, only I’m too busy dreading the security checkpoint outside the courthouse. They’re going to ask to search my purse, of course, and I can’t say “If you think I’m dangerous you shouldn’t have made me come here in the first place” or else I'll be arrested.

They’ll probably confiscate the nail clippers on my keychain. Should I remove them, or use a permanent marker to write “weapon” on the back? That sounds like a dangerous thing to do nowadays, but I'll have plausible deniability: If any security guards give me hell I can adopt a look of wide-eyed innocence and say “oops, I forgot I had those!” I have enough other crap on my keyring to make that utterly believable.

But what can I accomplish by throwing away a perfectly good set of nail clippers on a completely futile gesture? Nothing. Besides, I should make the court people think I'm nice and respectable, so they'll be more likely to believe me when I tell them I can’t do jury duty.

20 Comments:

Blogger rhhardin said...

Sue for infliction of emotional distress.

2:12 AM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

It's a pain in the ass, but the last time I was called for jury duty (County level, not Fed) it actually wasn't so bad. Given that where I live does not look kindly on carry permits, the biggest thing I had to worry about was a cell phone with a built in camera. Such things are much more dangerous, apparantly, than nail clippers....

That said, when you put the little ribbon on that said "Juror", they treated you much nicer.

Just my experience.

8:51 AM  
Blogger David Macharelli said...

Hey, some of us live in that grubby city! Not that I don't agree.

As far as jury duty goes, each time I've been called, I've never made it out of the waiting room. So I wasted an entire day, never to be asked a single.

The sad thing is, I wouldn't mind actually being on a jury, because I'm fascinated by the process.

9:09 AM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

If you get arrested at the security checkpoint, you have a great reason for not showing up for Jury Duty!

I've actually served on a jury, in a civil lawsuit over dental malpractice. I found the experience to be very interesting, and honestly gut-wrenching for the decisions I had to make. It didn't seem to bother any of my fellow jurors, however, many of whom claimed they had made up their minds by the first day of testimony. That bothered me a lot,
since they clearly hadn't heard all of the evidence (it was a three-day trial).

However, the experience did make me cynical about the claims that malpractice lawsuits are driving up medical costs. It turns out to be very difficult to convince a jury of "average folks" that you deserve some type of monetary award for injuries sustained in a medical procedure. There are three different standards or threshholds that must be met (I don't remember what they are, at this point, though) - and failure to meet any one of them means the defendant wins. Only after all three have been proven, can you start talking about any kind of monetary award.

If the jury I served on is in any way representative, you have to really prove your case, and then show very convincing reasons why a given monetary amount is justified as recompense. I know that most of the spectactular award cases we hear about on the news are actually under-reported: there are usually key considerations that are simply not reported.

For example, the famous multi-million dollar award to the old lady for spilling coffee in her lap. What doesn't get reported is that this was mostly a punitive award, because McDonald's had an extensive history of complaints and lawsuits about this very problem. It was demonstrated that they made a deliberate business decisions to keep the coffee hotter than other fast-food joints, because it was considered less-expensive to deal with & settle scald complaints than the amount they would lose in business if their coffee wasn't "better" (by being hotter" than the competition. A classic Ford Pinto decision, where the safety of customers was deliberately and knowingly compromised for business reasons. The jury decided that a big punitive award was the only way McDonalds could be "woken up" - and they were probably right.

The plaintiff probably did not "deserve" to "win the lottery" that way, but McDonalds certainly earned that loss, and our legal system doesn't have a way for juries to award part of the damages to charity or something. Punitive damages are just that - punitive. They are not necessarily "deserved" by the plaintiff, but the jury certainly considers them "deserved" by the defendant.

9:50 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

When I said "I can't do jury duty" I meant it. My job is as a reporter for a daily paper, and my beat is a particular small town. However, my paper is seriously understaffed. When I went on vacation a few weeks ago there were some extremely newsworthy events going on in my town; I told the editor about them before I left, but he didn't assign anyone to cover those events because he simply had no one to assign.

So if I did jury duty, especially for a long case, there would be nobody to cover that town for my paper, a lot of people in that town would therefore cancel their subscriptions, and with no customers in that town there'd ultimately be no reason for the paper to keep me on staff.

David, the grubby city isn't the one where you live; it's New Britain. Bleah.

10:22 AM  
Anonymous A moose said...

So if I did jury duty, especially for a long case, there would be nobody to cover that town for my paper, a lot of people in that town would therefore cancel their subscriptions, and with no customers in that town there'd ultimately be no reason for the paper to keep me on staff.

We're having whine for lunch?

Acutually, if it's that bad, just tell them why you can't do it. They're people, they understand realities of life to the extent that anyone does.

That said, I've never made it out of the waiting room either. The case I stood up and did the "interview" for came down to simple numbers, there were (I don't recall exact, so these are representative numbers) 50 potential jurors, I was number 28, they were picking 12 plus three alternates, meaning 15, and each side had two challenges. So, the most they were going to get to was number 19.

10:56 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

No whining at all, Moose, but stating a fact. When I got back from vacation I found many nasty letters to the editor complaining about the fact that their town wasn't mentioned in the paper AT ALL, during the week I was gone.

11:06 AM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

No whining at all, Moose, but stating a fact. When I got back from vacation I found many nasty letters to the editor complaining about the fact that their town wasn't mentioned in the paper AT ALL, during the week I was gone.

Bring a few along, or at least an actual count of the number of letters. Possibly a note from your editor about the "hardship to the business". In my county, they give hardship exemptions all the time. Heck, you can even get them over the phone, by calling the court clerk with your sob-story.

12:02 PM  
Anonymous NoStar said...

In my county they send a questionaire with your jury summons asking things like "Am I willing to accept the Judge's instructions to the jury?"

I answer, "Yes, as long as the Judge's instruction to not violate a juror's right of nullification."

They have yet to actually assign me to a jury pool. See, it is useful to know your rights!

12:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If we go with the info provided by the Center for Justice and Democracy, you find out that McDonald's had 700 burns in ten or eleven years (1982 - 1992).

According to McDonald's, there are currently about 30,000 McDonald's franchises. Let's say there were one tenth that amount between 1982 and 1992. You get less than one burn per forty-two stores per year. If you assume that each McDonalds sells about fifty coffees a day, 365 days a year, you're talking about less than one burn in 750,000 servings.

After doing that simple math, review the other points anne makes and that are on the CJ&D site. McDonalds served hot coffee because it rightly thought that its customers wanted it that way. It was certainly safe enough for people to use without incident even without warning labels explaining that it was hot.

"…many receiving severe burns to the genital area, perineum, inner thighs, and buttocks." indeed. In the cases where that was done because an agent of McDonald's did something wrong (e.g., dropping a coffee from the drive-up window into someone's lap), then McDonalds should have been liable. Instead they were sued for serving coffee that was too hot to be poured into one's lap.

12:26 PM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

Instead they were sued for serving coffee that was too hot to be poured into one's lap.

Which has nothing to do with Jennifer's dilemma.

The problem is, the couple of times I have had jury duty, you don't get asked the question about serving until you're actually there. Meaning, you lose at least a day in sorting it out. Worse, you are liable for perjury if you..er.."overstate" things, the enthusiasm for pursuing you varies by district and I'm sure by the number of people they have surplus or short.

found many nasty letters to the editor complaining about the fact that their town wasn't mentioned in the paper AT ALL, during the week I was gone

Which is exactly what the editor deserved for not covering what you told him/her/it(?) (just in case your editor is RuPaul or something) to make sure they cover.

1:49 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Which is exactly what the editor deserved for not covering what you told him/her/it(?) (just in case your editor is RuPaul or something) to make sure they cover.

In all fairness to my editor, Moose, there really was NOBODY he could send. In the eight months I've been at the paper two people have left (one quit, one retire) and Corporate did not replace them, so the editors had to divide their tasks amongst those of us who remained.

If push comes to shove I'll take NoStar's advice. Beats pretending to be a racist: "Can you give the evidence a fair and impartial hearing?" "Sure, unless the defendant's one of those goddamned Puerto Ricans."

3:51 PM  
Anonymous Jeff said...

I'll just add that New Britain is where a football-sized chunk of ice was dropped into my windshield from an overpass while I was zipping down the highway, so I can say with all due emotional detachment that they are all criminal scum in that town and should be locked up.

The fact that Jennifer works at a newspaper at all would probably be enough to get her excused.

7:18 AM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

Instead they were sued for serving coffee that was too hot to be poured into one's lap.

Actually, if you read your own linked article, you will see that McDonalds was primarily sued for knowingly selling a product that was "not fit for consumption" in the way it was distributed. Industry groups were already on record recommending that to-go coffee not be served that dangerously hot.

And, the large award was primarily because of excessively callous behavior on McDonald's part (the victim had initially offered to settle for $20,000 - barely enough to cover medical expenses).

After doing that simple math, review the other points anne makes and that are on the CJ&D site.

Similarly, do the math for the Ford Pinto. 59 deaths in 1.4 million cars. That's "only" one burning death per 23,729 cars - yet this is considered such a classic case that it is taught in business ethics classes. The successful lawsuit materially changed the way manufacturers approach product safety, to the benefit of all consumers.

From your linked article: "McDonald's admitted that its coffee is “not fit for consumption” when sold because it causes severe scalds if spilled or drunk;"

Knowingly and willfully producing and distributing a dangerous product, without any warning to the good-faith consumer, is (and should be) considered a bad thing.

In true free-market style, we don't have laws stating that coffee "to go" must not be served at over 130 degrees Fahrenheit (the published recommendation of Shriner’s Burn Institute in Cincinnati). Instead, we allow "the market" to decide. And part of that market is the lawsuits for selling dangerous products. If you have a track-record of ignoring customer injuries, a jury will eventually hit you with some significant punitive damages, if they think you are not acting responsibly.

11:04 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I agree with Anne on this one; the McDonald's coffee case does not deserve the reputation it has as a frivolous lawsuit. At the very least, if McDonald's wants to sell literally scalding coffee it should include a warning, like "You must let this cool down for ten minutes before you try to drink it, lest you severely scald the inside of your mouth."

11:15 AM  
Anonymous NoStar said...

Why hasn't there been a lawsuit against those pizza joints that serve pizza with that HOT cheese that not only burns the roof of your mouth, but also glues itself to your pallet effectively sealing it from the cold liquids you drink to stop the searing pain?

1:07 PM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

Why hasn't there been a lawsuit against those pizza joints that serve pizza with that HOT cheese that not only burns the roof of your mouth, but also glues itself to your pallet effectively sealing it from the cold liquids you drink to stop the searing pain?

Maybe because most pizza isn't sold as a "to go" item via a drive-through window, circumstances under which spilling on your lap is a reasonably likely scenario.

2:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reasonably likely as in less than one burn per 750,000 servings?

My estimates are probably conservative so the incidence rate is likely less than one in a million and that probably counts burns where McDonald's was at fault (dropping the coffee into someone's lap from the drive-up) and cases of burns that occurred by people dining in.

Some people fall for rhetoric like "not fit for consumption" while others realize that McDonald's clearly thought that their consumers preferred the coffee at that temperature.

4:56 PM  
Anonymous Sam Franklin said...

I like this Anne character more and more. She is not so down on litigation as is the vogue and is eloquent to boot.

6:40 PM  
Anonymous Wild Pegasus said...

Jury duty is no problem. Before anyone asks you a question, just make sure to volunteer the following information:

"In my capacity as a juror, it is my right and duty to judge not only the facts of the case, but also the justice of the law under which it is prosecuted."

You'll be out of there pronto.

See also "The Court Has No Use for Me".

- Josh

10:37 PM  

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