Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Three Finals Done: and all is well? (Civil Procedure)

I think I'm still shaking and it has almost been 48 hours since I finished . . . it.

I should have known this wasn't going to be a particularly wonderful week when someone was kind enough to slam into the side of my car in the middle of the night on Saturday and then take off without bothering to leave a note. I hope they rot! (bless their little hearts).

So Saturday I got to call the police and have someone come by to do a police report. I was at school when I called and they told me that I needed to go back home and meet the officer at the house so I left all my stuff there and pulled up at about the same time as the cop who asked me for my license and saw me stall for a good 30 seconds as I, in sheer panic, realized that I left that at the school as well. I don't know what it is but every time I see a cop I'm positive they're about to arrest me for something. Anyway, after we finished I went inside and waited for 20 minutes because the cop was just sitting in his car and I was terrified to get back in a drive as I was sure he was going to pull me over.

Then I spent the rest of Saturday and ALL of Monday preparing for Tuesday's final. Had I known what was coming, I don't think I would have bothered.

The test was not possible. It just wasn't. It was nothing like the practice tests we had done. We had 3 hours to complete it and I don't think I could have done it in 8 (and that's really not an exaggeration). I have never felt so dumb in all my life. Naturally about 80 minutes into the test I started to have a severe anxiety attack; my heart was pounding, I was sweaty, and I started to black out a little. I thought that that would be just terrible timing to pass out in the middle of my final but then I realized I was going to get the same grade whether I was conscious or not.

The good news is that the rest of the class seemed to feel the same. When the proctor called "time" at the end, a moan echoed through the room. It was painful moan. I looked around and saw one girl with tears streaming down her face. People were hugging. The mood was somber. You would have thought we had all been told that we just lost a family member if you just watched this. And it sounds quite funny now but at the time none of it seemed to be an overreaction in the slightest. I talked to one girl who told me that after the test she went into the restroom and there were 4 or 5 girls in there sobbing their eyes out. It's hard to explain how it all happened, but I think the test was somehow that emotionally draining on this group of very sleep-deprived people who had sacrificed their lives for the last several months to be completely ranked and evaluated based on their performance on a 3 hour test that was so convoluted that I think the professor himself couldn't have finished.

So naturally my entire class of 147 people spent the afternoon at the mall in a sad attempt to buy their happiness. I joined them a couple hours late after a 2 hour workout.

Sorry this post is so gloomy. I'm still struggling from severe emotional distress.

Now I have to go to bed so I can wake up early and try to cram a little more info into my burned-out brain for my final final tomorrow morning.

I still love law school. Which is a good thing since I'll probably be starting over when I fail out here in the next month or two~

It Just Gets Stranger~

Friday, December 12, 2008

Two Finals Done: and all is well (property)

Somehow I survived. And I know that this sounds like one of those things where you suddenly start feeling like you have whatever ailment you're discussing, but my left wrist is kind of hurting right now and I think I'm getting carpel tunnel. It's either that or my self-diagnosed luekemia that nobody seems to have been taking as seriously as me over the last 4 years.

I was at the library yesterday from before 7:00am until about 9:30pm. I never actually saw the sun. Just had my face in a book (one that happened to be horrifically boring; it was my property law case book) until blood was coming out of my eyes. Things of course are starting to get really scary at the law building; it's never a good idea to cram 148 people together who are all dealing with a whole new level of stress they've never encountered before which is directly proportional to the amount of work each of the other 147 people are doing. I've been called a lot of names, seen some scary looks, and at one point around 8:15pm I'm pretty sure one girl tried to throw a chair at me but failed miserably when she realized it was stuck between a table and a wall.

So this morning I woke up and wrote about easements and covenants and equitable servitudes for several hours until my brain was about to explode. The test actually went really well. I never thought I would say this, but I think property may end up being my best final (don't tell anyone you heard that; that would be social suicide).

After the test my friend Liz and I decided to go workout at the school gym, which was a good thing because I haven't lifted weights since before the war and my muscles have atrophied to the level of a nine-year-old girl with a rare blood disease you can only get from those monkey spiders they have in Brazil.

At the BYU gym they make you wear these school-issued t-shirts; a requirement to get in (I've never really been sure why); I don't complain because I'm just so thankful that the school-issued blue shorts are optional. I of course always consistently opt to wear my own shorts because I would wear a dress before even considering the option of touching anything like this. I'll never be able to fully explain what these shorts look like; I only have to pray that your imaginations will not lead you astray. They're tight, blue, waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too short (and this is coming from a runner), and I'm pretty sure they were sown together by the Spanish Fork 4th ward relief society for one activity back in 1983 when a fireside speaker canceled last minute and they needed an idea fast (I've never been able to verify this however).

The shirts aren't too bad; they're gray and as long as you get one that fits you, you'll be fine. The problem is, the locker room isn't always consistent on giving you what you want. So today I walked up to the window to get a shirt and I asked for a small (the only sizes they have are "close enough", "way too big", "family sized", "Costco", "morbidly obese", and "shirt? Oh we thought we were making a parachute.")

Naturally I always say "small" hoping that they'll get me the "close enough." Sometimes I end up with the "way too big" which I cope with until cutting my workout short because I'm uncomfortable and I feel like a homeless man because the neck for some reason is big enough that the shirt falls off my shoulder if I bend to one side. I imagine this is due to someone sucking on it; you all remember that kid from the 4th grade who sucked on the collar of his t-shirts all day until it was stretched out enough that you couldn't tell which was the top and which was the bottom (If you were in the 4th grade with me, I was that kid; otherwise it was probably someone named Brad or Tyler).

But today, I knew it right when they threw it to me; today I got size "morbidly obese." This time they had gone too far.

Eli: Don't you have a small?
Locker Room: That's all we have!
Eli: Seriously? Can you check again?
Locker Room: The smalls are all dirty!
Eli: So what do you expect the normal sized people to do in the meantime?
Locker Room: Not my problem.
Eli: Well can I have a dirty one?
Locker Room: You can have what I gave you!
Eli: (Puppy dog eyes)
Locker Room: Do . . . you need anything else?
Eli: Have you got a sewing machine and some gray fabric? . . . and home-ec classes?

Now I don't think I would have been unreasonable to just give the shirt back and call it a day but I did at least try it on. Oh man. If you had only been there. The shirt covered my shorts. And just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, it had a huge hole in the back.

So now I had a problem because I couldn't go up to the weight room like this but I came with a friend from school and I was her ride so I couldn't just leave either. I quickly ran through about 12 friends in my head and tried to imagine what each of them would do and I figured that only about 3 of those would have just sucked it up and worn the shirt (I was very selective in choosing the 12; Alyssa, you were among the 9 that would have refused. Congratulations). Eventually I ran to another building on campus that has a locker room and found someone to trade me (that was another big ol' mess but somehow I ended up with a small in the end, 25 minutes after getting the first shirt).

Now I just have two finals to go. The next one is the hardest and it's on Tuesday.

Have a good weekend everyone! Don't do anything I wouldn't do (trust me, that doesn't limit you much).

It just gets stranger~

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

One Final Done: and all is well (Torts)

I didn't sleep-in like we all guessed I probably would and I finished my first final today. It was 3 hours long and really stressful (for this I'm attributing the 5 cups of mashed potatoes and packet of gravy I just downed like cough syrup among the rest of my dinner only a few hours after the large lunch I had this afternoon).

The test didn't go completely sans drama unfortunately and about 90 minutes after the proctor told the class that she had two blue books at the front of the room to write in in case a computer crashed "but don't worry about it because in the four years I've done this I've NEVER seen a computer crash during a test," tragedy struck. I got the "blue screen of death" right in the middle of a sentence about products liability (one that wasn't that good anyway) and within 10 seconds I had developed ulcers, pancreatic cancer, the entire alphabet of the hepatitisies, tuberculosis, chlamydia, 12 cold sores, 30 canker sores that ended up merging in to 1 when they ran out of room, and hypersensitive disorder of the lower urinary tract, thus proving that worrying moms across the globe are correct in swearing that every ailment east or west of the Nile is probably due to stress. As my computer started to reboot itself, I wondered if I should go get the last remaining blue book from the front of the room and start handwriting my exam (my friend Corey had taken the other one when her computer decided at the beginning of the test that it was a perfect time to run all 50,000 Windows updates that it very maliciously seemed to be saving up over the last 4 months). I then had the following conversation in my head:

Eli: I should go get that last blue book.
Eli: No, it's the last one. If your computer starts working and someone else needs one you'll feel bad.
Eli: I shouldn't be thinking about other people right now.
Eli: Plus I don't want to have to climb over people to get up to the front of the room.
Eli: That girl's bag looks like an old potato sack.
Eli: Yeah it totally does. Plus I think she's worn those sweat-pants every day this week.
Eli: Mashed potatoes sound really good right now. I think I'll make some when I get home.
Eli: Wait; focus; computer problem; what am I going to do?
Eli: Well if it doesn't start in 10 seconds, go get the blue book.
Eli: OK that sounds good. And I can put garlic in the mashed potatoes--that's all I'm going to say!
Eli: OK--1, 2, 3, --oh and I have mozzarella cheese!--OK 4-5-6-, 7, 8-

Then the computer started back up and had miraculously saved all of my typing except for the last sentence which I told you wasn't any good anyway. I only lost about 3 minutes in the process and I didn't feel too bad about that because for about the last 6 minutes of the test I just retyped the same thing over and over in different words anyway because I ran out of things to say but couldn't seem to stop typing as I was determined to single-handedly in one sitting develop carpel tunnel to accompany the rest of my stress-induced diseases previously mentioned.

Now I'm preparing for my next test which will be Friday morning. On an unrelated note, if any of you happen to be experts on property law, don't hesitate to call me tomorrow and explain everything that I should have learned in the last 4 months that for reasons unknown I seem to have missed.

Thanks for all your prayers (I assume you've had me in your prayers--you seem to be that kind of people). I love you all and hope things are just getting stranger for you~

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Finals Are Coming: Hide Your Children!

I would appreciate it if you all called me every day or two for the next couple of weeks to make sure I'm still alive. I hereby formally and preemptively apologize if when you do call I do nothing other than drone on through slurred speech about property law and subject matter jurisdiction. I never intended to become obsessive about school but at least for the next two weeks I think I'll be letting it consume my being. As a result, I'm of course living sans a social life right now. Or maybe I'm obsessed with school because I don't have a social life. . . well, either way, things are about to get scary.

I love you all . . .

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

McDonald's' Coffee: The Other Side of the Story

Have you ever sat around with your friends and talked about that sue happy maniac that got over 2 million dollars from McDonalds for spilling coffee on herself? Have you ever actually read the facts of that case? Did you know that this was an 81 year old woman who had never sued anyone before and didn't want to sue McDonald's but felt she had to when they refused to help her cover $800 in medical costs that she couldn't afford when she had to get multiple skin grafts from the severe 3rd degree burns from the coffee that McDonald's had been warned many many times before was dangerously hot and could eventually kill someone? Would you have felt any differently if this was your grandma who wanted to peacefully settle for a more than reasonable amount but was jerked around constantly by this giant company through emotionally draining litigation for years? I have only scraped the surface of how egregious this is; Below I have pasted an article that details the case. You may find it interesting . . .

McDonald's, known for its fastidious control over franchisees, requires that its coffee be prepared at very high temperatures, based on recommendations of coffee consultants and industry groups that say hot temperatures are necessary to fully extract the flavor during brewing. Before trial, McDonald's gave the opposing lawyer its operations and training manual, which says its coffee must be brewed at 195 to 205 degrees and held at 180 to 190 degrees for optimal taste. Since the verdict, McDonald's has declined to offer any comment, as have their attorneys. It is unclear if the company, whose coffee cups warn drinkers that the contents are hot, plans to change its preparation procedures.

Coffee temperature is suddenly a hot topic in the industry. The Specialty Coffee Association of America has put coffee safety on the agenda of its quarterly board meeting this month. And a spokesman for Dunkin' Donuts Inc., which sells about 500 million cups of coffee a year, says the company is looking at the verdict to see if it needs to make any changes to the way it makes coffee.

Others call it a tempest in a coffeepot. A spokesman for the National Coffee Association says McDonald's coffee conforms to industry temperature standards. And a spokesman for Mr. Coffee Inc., the coffee-machine maker, says that if customer complaints are any indication, industry settings may be too low -- some customers like it hotter. A spokeswoman for Starbucks Coffee Co. adds, "Coffee is traditionally a hot beverage and is served hot and I would hope that this is an isolated incident."

Coffee connoisseur William McAlpin, an importer and wholesaler in Bar Harbor, Maine, who owns a coffee plantation in Costa Rica, says 175 degrees is "probably the optimum temperature, because that's when aromatics are being released. Once the aromas get in your palate, that is a large part of what makes the coffee a pleasure to drink."

Public opinion is squarely on the side of McDonald's. Polls have shown a large majority of Americans -- including many who typically support the little guy -- to be outraged at the verdict. And radio talk-show hosts around the country have lambasted the plaintiff, her attorneys and the jurors on air. Declining to be interviewed for this story, one juror explained that he already had received angry calls from citizens around the country.

It's a reaction that many of the jurors could have understood -- before they heard the evidence. At the beginning of the trial, jury foreman Jerry Goens says he "wasn't convinced as to why I needed to be there to settle a coffee spill."

At that point, Mr. Goens and the other jurors knew only the basic facts: that two years earlier, Stella Liebeck had bought a 49-cent cup of coffee at the drive-in window of an Albuquerque McDonald's, and while removing the lid to add cream and sugar had spilled it, causing third-degree burns of the groin, inner thighs and buttocks. Her suit, filed in state court in Albuquerque, claimed the coffee was "defective" because it was so hot.

What the jury didn't realize initially was the severity of her burns. Told during the trial of Mrs. Liebeck's seven days in the hospital and of her skin grafts, and shown gruesome photographs, jurors began taking the matter more seriously. "It made me come home and tell my wife and daughters don't drink coffee in the car, at least not hot," says juror Jack Elliott.

Even more eye-opening was the revelation that McDonald's had seen such injuries many times before. Company documents showed that in the past decade McDonald's had received at least 700 reports of coffee burns ranging from mild to third degree, and had settled claims arising from scalding injuries for more than $500,000.

Some observers wonder why McDonald's, after years of settling coffee-burn cases, chose to take this one to trial. After all, the plaintiff was a sympathetic figure -- an articulate, 81-year-old former department store clerk who said under oath that she had never filed suit before. In fact, she said, she never would have filed this one if McDonald's hadn't dismissed her request for compensation for pain and medical bills with an offer of $800.

Then there was the matter of Mrs. Liebeck's attorney. While recuperating from her injuries in the Santa Fe home of her daughter, Mrs. Liebeck happened to meet a pair of Texas transplants familiar with a Houston attorney who had handled a 1986 hot-coffee lawsuit against McDonald's. His name was Reed Morgan, and ever since he had deeply believed that McDonald's coffee is too hot.

For that case, involving a Houston woman with third-degree burns, Mr. Morgan had the temperature of coffee taken at 18 restaurants such as Dairy Queen, Wendy's and Dunkin' Donuts, and at 20 McDonald's restaurants. McDonald's, his investigator found, accounted for nine of the 12 hottest readings. Also for that case, Mr. Morgan deposed Christopher Appleton, a McDonald's quality assurance manager, who said "he was aware of this risk . . . and had no plans to turn down the heat," according to Mr. Morgan. McDonald's settled that case for $27,500.

Now, plotting Mrs. Liebeck's case, Mr. Morgan planned to introduce photographs of his previous client's injuries and those of a California woman who suffered second- and third-degree burns after a McDonald's employee spilled hot coffee into her vehicle in 1990, a case that was settled out of court for $230,000.

Tracy McGee of Rodey, Dickason, Sloan, Akin & Robb, the lawyers for McDonald's, strenuously objected. "First-person accounts by sundry women whose nether regions have been scorched by McDonald's coffee might well be worthy of Oprah," she wrote in a motion to state court Judge Robert Scott. "But they have no place in a court of law." Judge Scott did not allow the photographs nor the women's testimony into evidence, but said Mr. Morgan could mention the cases.

As the trial date approached, McDonald's declined to settle. At one point, Mr. Morgan says he offered to drop the case for $300,000, and was willing to accept half that amount. But McDonald's didn't bite.

Only days before the trial, Judge Scott ordered both sides to attend a mediation session. The mediator, a retired judge, recommended that McDonald's settle for $225,000, saying a jury would be likely to award that amount. The company didn't follow his recommendation.

Instead, McDonald's continued denying any liability for Mrs. Liebeck's burns. The company suggested that she may have contributed to her injuries by holding the cup between her legs and not removing her clothing immediately. And it also argued that "Mrs. Liebeck's age may have caused her injuries to have been worse than they might have been in a younger individual," since older skin is thinner and more vulnerable to injury.

The trial lasted seven sometimes mind-numbing days. Experts dueled over the temperature at which coffee causes burns. A scientist testifying for McDonald's argued that any coffee hotter than 130 degrees could produce third-degree burns, so it didn't matter whether McDonald's coffee was hotter. But a doctor testifying on behalf of Mrs. Liebeck argued that lowering the serving temperature to about 160 degrees could make a big difference, because it takes less than three seconds to produce a third-degree burn at 190 degrees, about 12 to 15 seconds at 180 degrees and about 20 seconds at 160 degrees.

The testimony of Mr. Appleton, the McDonald's executive, didn't help the company, jurors said later. He testified that McDonald's knew its coffee sometimes caused serious burns, but hadn't consulted burn experts about it. He also testified that McDonald's had decided not to warn customers about the possibility of severe burns, even though most people wouldn't think it possible. Finally, he testified that McDonald's didn't intend to change any of its coffee policies or procedures, saying, "There are more serious dangers in restaurants."

Mr. Elliott, the juror, says he began to realize that the case was about "callous disregard for the safety of the people."

Next for the defense came P. Robert Knaff, a human-factors engineer who earned $15,000 in fees from the case and who, several jurors said later, didn't help McDonald's either. Dr. Knaff told the jury that hot-coffee burns were statistically insignificant when compared to the billion cups of coffee McDonald's sells annually.

To jurors, Dr. Knaff seemed to be saying that the graphic photos they had seen of Mrs. Liebeck's burns didn't matter because they were rare. "There was a person behind every number and I don't think the corporation was attaching enough importance to that," says juror Betty Farnham.

When the panel reached the jury room, it swiftly arrived at the conclusion that McDonald's was liable. "The facts were so overwhelmingly against the company," says Ms. Farnham. "They were not taking care of their consumers."

Then the six men and six women decided on compensatory damages of $200,000, which they reduced to $160,000 after determining that 20% of the fault belonged with Mrs. Liebeck for spilling the coffee.

The jury then found that McDonald's had engaged in willful, reckless, malicious or wanton conduct, the basis for punitive damages. Mr. Morgan had suggested penalizing McDonald's the equivalent of one to two days of companywide coffee sales, which he estimated at $1.35 million a day. During the four-hour deliberation, a few jurors unsuccessfully argued for as much as $9.6 million in punitive damages. But in the end, the jury settled on $2.7 million. McDonald's has since asked the judge for a new trial. Judge Scott has asked both sides to meet with a mediator to discuss settling the case before he rules on McDonald's request. The judge also has the authority to disregard the jury's finding or decrease the amount of damages.

One day after the verdict, a local reporter tested the coffee at the McDonald's that had served Mrs. Liebeck and found it to be a comparatively cool 158 degrees. But industry officials say they doubt that this signals any companywide change. After all, in a series of focus groups last year, customers who buy McDonald's coffee at least weekly say that "morning coffee has minimal taste requirements, but must be hot," to the point of steaming.

Credit: Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal