SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

March 11, 2013

Letter: Too many have lost sight of the tort law system

To the editor:

I would like to thank your newspaper for running the article on Norman Pelletier’s lawsuit against the Danversport Yacht Club on Feb. 28. As Mr. Pelletier’s lawyer, you had called my office seeking comment, however, I was in court at the time. As this case has garnered significant attention from various media outlets, I would now like to provide background and perspective to the facts you reported.

The so-called “tort-reform” movement, spurred and funded by moneyed interests such as insurance companies and other large corporations, has purposefully distorted the facts of various cases in an effort to discredit our tort law system. The media is now in lock-step with this propaganda, and so, too, is public opinion. Judging by the tone of your article, as well as comments on your website, the tort-reform movement has successfully turned the public against injured parties. Sadly, the first instinct is now to ridicule the injured and their claims for redress based on assumptions and half-truths.

Your allusion to the “Hot Coffee” case, and your attempt to link it to Mr. Pelletier’s case, is a perfect example. The reference was clearly designed to elicit public outrage at yet another example of frivolous litigation. Indeed, I have filed hundreds of lawsuits in Essex Superior Court and have a long history of representing injured persons, some who have died or suffered catastrophic injuries as the result of the negligence of others. Most of these cases do not garner any media attention. No doubt, you chose the “Hot Coffee” case and Mr. Pelletier’s claim because, on their surface, they appear to be humorous examples of a perceived abuse of our legal system.

In truth, there is nothing funny or unreasonable about the allegations and injuries in either case. In the infamous “Hot Coffee” case, Stella Liebeck, 79, suffered third-degree burns over 6 percent of her body, including her inner thighs, perineum, buttocks, and genital and groin areas, requiring surgery and an eight-day hospital stay. Prior to her accident, McDonald’s had received hundreds of complaints of injury due to the excessive temperature of its coffee, yet failed to take any action. Ms. Liebeck was merely seeking payment of her medical bills. The judge in the case described McDonald’s behavior as “callous, reckless and willful.” As a result of the lawsuit, McDonald’s reduced the holding temperature of its coffee so that if you accidentally spill coffee on yourself at the drive-through, you won’t have to suffer what Ms. Liebeck did. If you want to know more about the “Hot Coffee” case, I have several DVD copies of the documentary “Hot Coffee” and would be happy to lend copies to any party upon request.

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