Auto Accident Jury Bias & the “McDonald’s Coffee Conundrum”

Today’s blog will address one of the most important jury trial issues when representing a client injured from a car accident: Selecting an impartial jury (a/k/a, “voir dire”).  So you’ve worked hard for your client through 12 plus months of litigation. As the Plaintiff’s attorney, you feel good about the way depositions have gone. You have done as well as you had hoped in pre-trial motions and Court hearings, and your experts are lined-up. While no case is perfect, you feel strongly that you can prove by “the greater weight of the evidence” that your client’s injuries and resulting damages were caused by the motor vehicle accident. Given all the time, expense, and resources you have invested on behalf of your client, it would be more than a shame to lose your case before the first witness is called to the stand. However, that can happen if the injured victim’s attorney fails to conduct proper questioning of each member of the jury panel.

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Pasco County Injury Attorney Scott McPherson – The McDonald’s Coffee Issue during Jury Selection

Much has been written about how to conduct a proper voir dire during jury selection. For purposes of this short blog, I am addressing only one topic: Addressing the misperception that America is wrought with frivolous lawsuits and runaway juries. The poster-child of this belief if the infamous “McDonald’s coffee case,” which even became the basis of a Seinfeld episode. We’ve all heard about the lady who got “millions” from a jury when she was careless enough to spill hot coffee on herself. The fact of the matter is that there was far more to the case than was reported, that it did not involve “millions,” and that the verdict’s total was reduced by the Plaintiff’s own negligence. However, selecting a jury, what I know to be true is irrelevant; all that matters is what the jurors believe about the general nature of personal injury lawsuits. (NOTE: Even Cracked.com did an article titled “6 Famous ‘Frivolous Lawsuit’ Stories That Are Total B.S.” Read by clicking here [warning as to profanity])

I have always brought up the McDonald’s case during jury selection. It’s a good method to start a conversation that will uncover biases, and can lead to a decision to strike someone for cause, or use a peremptory challenge. It’s a good opportunity to explain that your goal is not to seat a jury that is “pro-plaintiff;” you just want a level playing field for your client. Of course, it’s also a time to make sure that prospective jurors will decide your injured client’s case strictly on it’s own merits, and not based on preconceived beliefs of personal injury claims. This topic is but one of many that I explore when trying an auto accident case.

In an automobile accident jury trial, it is essential that the client have an attorney with real world jury trial experience as the lead attorney. As a New Port Richey, Florida personal injury trial attorney, I understand the importance of experience in all phases of a case. I have also been lead attorney in personal injury jury trial cases in Hillsborough County, Pasco County, Pinellas County, and Hernando County. Feel free to contact me for a free consultation.