Jury System Works, Again

The jury ruled in favor of Victoria Osteen and against Sharon Brown, proving once again that not all juries are out of control.  As I stated in my previous post, when you look at the facts closely, you’ll find, most of the time though not always, that there are reasons for the so-called run away verdict.  The fact is I’ve seen many meritorious cases where the plaintiff is undercompensated or even loses. Lawyers don’t call going to trial “rolling the dice” for nothing.  The system is not perfect. It is just the best we have.

The Associated Press ran the following quote:

The jury’s foreman, Gilles Labbe, said he and other jurors believed what happened on the plane was only a minor dispute between a passenger and one or more of the flight attendants.

‘My personal point of view (the lawsuit) was a complete waste of time because the incident didn’t rise to any kind of level. I fly all the time. I’ve seen a lot worse than that happen on airplanes.’

I commend the Osteens for not knuckling under and taking the easy way out. It must be nice to be able to well afford the cost of a good defense against this sort of suit. That is not always the case. But then again, few lawsuits seem quite as clear cut as this one. Although the Osteens could still have lost on any given day, the evidence did seem to favor them. This suit does show that those who are looking to cash in through a lawsuit cannot always depend on the lawsuit lottery.  It also shows that you cannot count on the embarassment factor of your accusations causing the other side to pay you off.


You’re Mean And You’re Rich So I Want Money And Lots Of It

I generally don’t comment on lawsuits with which I am not familiar, especially if my only knowledge of them is from the news.   I was grossly misquoted the few times I have been involved with the press.  When I have witnessed a portion of a trial and then read it about later in the newspaper it seemed as if the reporter and I were in two different courtrooms.  I take press reports of legal matters with a huge helping of salt.  Also many of the lawsuits that I have heard described as “frivolous” were anything but so I don’t take that term lightly either.  My favorite example of a lawsuit that people like to claim is frivolous is the McDonald’s scalding coffee case. The coffee in question was unfit for human consumption as served. However, I have to comment on the case of Sharon Brown versus Victoria Osteen.

Ms. Brown is a Continental Airlines flight attendant. She encountered Mrs. Osteen on a flight.  She claims that Victoria Osteen, who is the wife of pop mega-preacher and author Joel Osteen, verbally and physically assaulted her when a spill wasn’t cleaned up fast enough.  Specifically, she claims that Mrs. Osteen “yelled and screamed”, pushed her against the bathroom door, and elbowed her in the left breast as she attempted to force her way into the airplane cockpit.  In other words, she claims that Ms. Osteen was not very nice to her and was mean.  As a result she claims to have suffered a loss of faith, anxiety, and hemorrhoids (no joke, hemorrhoids!).  Her version of events is supported by fellow flight attendant, Maria Johnson.  For her part, Mrs. Osteen denies she did any of this.  Mrs. Osteen’s version is supported by husband Joel, three first class passengers and the captain.  Basically, the passengers and captain all deny hearing or seeing anything on the flight like the altercation Ms. Brown describes.  On cross examination, Ms. Brown admitted that no physical injuries ever manifested themselves and that she delayed in seeking psychological treatment.  (She probably delayed treatment just long enough to find out who Victoria Osteen was and what she was worth.)

By the way, Ms. Brown also claimed to have had a similar incident with Claudia Hall in 1995, which Ms. Hall denies.  Ms. Hall testified that she lightly touched Ms. Brown on the arm and that she flipped out and accused her of shoving her against a bathroom door.  Ms. Hall, who was broke at the time, was never sued.  Unfortunately, character evidence is usually inadmissible to prove someone acted in conformity with their character or that the alleged conduct is not in conformity with their character.  That’s too bad.  Because cases like these sometimes call out for that kind of evidence.  I find that people often act in conformity with their character. If you have a habit of getting involved in altercations with people who don’t share that habit, then maybe the altercations aren’t being caused by everyone else.

Of course, Ms. Brown’s hurt feelings can be assuaged.  Apparently, all she needs to feel much better is $405,000.00,  She was demanding full disclosure of the Osteens net worth so she could claim ten percent (10%) of it as “punitive damages.”

Let’s give Ms. Brown the benefit of the doubt for a minute.  Let’s assume everything she has claimed Mrs. Osteen did to her is the truth.  So?  Somebody was mean to you. Get over it!  Get on with your life!  Bringing a minor altercation like this, where there was no physical injury, into court is a monumental waste of time.  It certainly isn’t worth $405,000.00.  I suggest that it wouldn’t be in court if Mrs. Osteen wasn’t a wealthy public figure.  And do we want someone with this thin a skin working with the traveling public?  These days the traveling public tends to be irate because they’re tired of being treated like dirt.

Florida law does allow recovery for hurt feelings.  The cause of action is called “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” However, it requires conduct that is intended to cause emotional distress and is so extreme that it would cause the average person to exclaim “that’s outrageous!”  Merely being rude is not enough.  Unlike most torts the judge can apply that standard as a matter of law on a motion to dismiss based on the conduct alleged.  Consequently, most of the case law in this area is cases that have been dismissed or where summary judgment has been granted because the alleged conduct was not sufficiently outrageous.  The trial court is generally upheld.  These types of cases can be very hard to bring, as they should be.