McDonald’s Coffee Case Mention Didn’t Bias Jury

     (CN) – A Utah jury was not unduly influenced by an attorney’s “cultural reference” to the famously large jury award against McDonald’s over a spilled cup of coffee, the Utah Court of Appeals ruled.

     John Boyle was walking through the parking lot of a grocery store when he was hit by a car driven by Kerry Christensen. He admitted liability, and a trial took place on the issue of damages.
     Christensen’s counsel stated in the closing argument: “How many days has it been since the accident? How many days for the rest of his life? And how much per day is that worth? That’s what’s been done here. That’s how we get verdicts like in the McDonald’s case with the cup of coffee.”
     Boyle’s lawyer objected to the reference to the 1994 verdict in Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants, in which a New Mexico jury awarded $2.86 million to a woman who burned herself with hot coffee, calling it “prejudicial and not in evidence.”
      The judge overruled the objection, and Boyle won an award of $62,500. Boyle appealed the decision, as he sought a much larger amount.
     The appeals court upheld the trial court’s decision.
     “We see no harm in allowing Christensen to use a cultural reference as shorthand to make the point that, in Christensen’s opinion, Mr. Boyle’s damages methodology was likely to render this jury’s verdict excessive,” Judge William Thorne Jr. wrote.

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