Woman Receives $52,500 Arbitration Award in Coffee Suit

According to reports, a New York woman has been awarded $52,500 through arbitration after being burned by a cup of coffee purchased from a Wendy’s in Staten Island. The incident occurred in 2012 when the woman and her daughter went to the Wendy’s drive-thru to purchase some food and a cup of coffee. The daughter, who was driving the car, was handed the cup of coffee from the Wendy’s employee. While the testimony on the exact manner was apparently inconsistent, the daughter then passed the cup to her mother who was sitting in the passenger’s seat. It appears the lid from the coffee cup may have not been properly secured during the pass. As such, coffee spilled from the cup onto the woman’s left hand and left knee. Thereafter, the woman filed suit Rawson Food Services, a New Jersey based Wendy’s franchisee, Princeton Food Services, and Wendy’s International alleging that she was burned because the coffee was both “excessively hot” and “unsafely or improperly packaged.”

Over the years, we here at Abnormal Use have taken interest in hot coffee litigation. Most often, hot coffee cases can be divided into two classes, those that allege burns as a result of the excessive temperature of the coffee and those that allege injuries as a result of some conduct of the restaurant’s employees. Aside from the infamous Stella Liebeck case, the former often face the most scrutiny in the courts and among the public. The latter are often easier to digest as they don’t premise liability on serving a product on the way it is meant to be served. Rather, the latter allege the restaurant was liable because its employees did not act in the way a reasonable attorney should under the circumstances (i.e. the employee spilled coffee on a customer in the course of handing him the cup or the employee did not properly not secure the lid to the coffee cup). This particular case is interesting (but not unique) in that it alleges that the coffee was both excessively hot and that it was not properly packaged. The reports do not mention the alleged temperature of the Wendy’s coffee, nor do they state the theory on which the award was based. For the sake of hot coffee lovers around the world, let’s hope it was more so the latter than the former.

We should also note that the arbitrator assessed the damages as $75,000, but found the woman to be 30 percent at-fault. We presume that the comparative fault must have been the result of the manner in which the woman handled the coffee.

12 Steps Toward Fulfillment in the Practice of Law (Step 5)

Step 5 – Live Beneath Your Means

We are currently reviewing Judge Carl Horn’s 12 Steps Toward Fulfillment in the Practice of Law, outlined in his book, Lawyer Life – Finding a Life and a Higher Calling in the Practice of Law.  Horn sets forth his twelve steps which are based on choices that an individual lawyer can make to enhance professional fulfillment.

Step 5 is to Live Beneath Your Means. The essence of this step is that unless we actively struggle against it, we will find ourselves engaging in consumer spending that severely limits our ability to choose a healthier, more balanced life. How can we say “no” to more fee-generating work when we have all those bills to pay? Horn suggests that if we are to live a balanced life, we must learn to say “no” not only to more work, but also to the consumer spending that seems to make imbalance a necessity. By controlling our spending, we can significantly reduce the financial pressures that stress us out and push an increasing number of us over the edge.

Join us next week for Step 6 – Don’t Let Technology Control Your Life.

Nirvana’s Nevermind: 25 Years of Influence


As lawyers, we here at Abnormal Use can identify many things that have shaped our careers. Whether it be a law professor, a client, or a trial, the way we practice law is a product of our past experiences. While many of those past events are legal in nature, life experiences also play a critical role. Contrary to the punchlines of many legal jokes, we are humans first and foremost, and we were molded as individuals long before we embarked on our legal odyssey.

Looking back at my formative years, September 24, 1991 may be the date that shaped me as a person more so than any other (apart from my marriage and the birth of my children, of course). On that date, 25 years ago this past Saturday, Nirvana released its second studio album, Nevermind. The album rescued rock music from its most mundane slump in its history and brought alternative rock to the mainstream. Aside from its revolutionary effect on music, the album’s ramifications on a generation of youth is its greatest achievement.

Personally, I was a mere 10 years old when Nevermind was released; I was just beginning to develop my own music preferences. I had just acquired DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s Homebase, thinking it would go perfectly with the only other album in my collection, MC Hammer’s Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em. While my choice in music may seem laughable today, at the time, it was not. All the “cool” kids were listening to terrible rap music, so I would, too. I was the well-behaved quiet kid who did well in school and desperately aimed to fit in.  So I bought those albums and listened to them alone in my room after school, memorizing the lyrics so I could be in the conversation with the cool kids.

The release of Nevermind, however, brought an end to that vicious cycle.

One afternoon, I was flipping through the channels on the television and came across the music video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Nirvana’s first single from Nevermind. Admittedly, I could not understand a single lyric from the song, but somehow, it spoke to me. Kurt Cobain’s muffled screaming over the sounds of the guitar and drums quenched my musical thirst far more than the beats of ’90’s rap ever had before. I heard this enchanting sound and learned that it was coming from guys who clearly weren’t trying to “fit in” with the times. There was no glam. Just guys wearing ratty clothes with unkempt hair playing music in a dusty old gymnasium. For me, that redefined what I thought was cool.

Shortly thereafter, I got my hands on Nevermind and listened to it on a continuous loop. While I didn’t grasp the full meaning of many of the lyrics at the age of 10, it didn’t matter. Nirvana was my music. My sound. My way of looking at the world. For whatever reason, listening to Nirvana and watching the video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was the affirmation I needed that I didn’t have to follow suit with the other kids (however, they, too, eventually ditched “U Can’t Touch This” in favor of the Seattle grunge scene). I didn’t try to emulate Nirvana. I didn’t have to wear ratty clothes and not comb my hair. I was still the well-behaved kid who got good grades, but I was me – not somebody else. Nirvana taught me that is okay.

Twenty-five years later, I still take with me those life lessons I derived from my first exposure to that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” music video. I have my own style. My own way of doing things. My own way of practicing law. And, I am happy with that.

Thanks, Nirvana.


Friday Links

Don’t forget that tomorrow is the 25th anniversary of Nirvana’s Nevermind album, which was originally released on September 24, 1991! What existential musings that anniversary prompts! On Monday, our own Nick Farr will be providing his detailed thoughts on the anniversary and its meaning to him all of these years later. Don’t miss it!

Bruce Springsteen’s new memoirs, Born To Run, arrives in stores this week! We’re on it!

Why aren’t you following us on Twitter? Click here and join the conversation with us!

We here at Abnormal Use and Gallivan, White, & Boyd, P.A. is pleased to announce that Greenville attorney Duffie Powers and Columbia attorneys Grayson Smith and Breon Walker have been chosen as “Rising Stars Under 40” by Benchmark Litigation.

12 Steps Toward Fulfillment in the Practice of Law (Step 4)

12 Steps Toward Fulfillment in the Practice of Law (Step 4)

In this week’s review of the 12 Steps Toward Fulfillment in the Practice of Law, we review Judge Horn’s Step 4 – Implement Healthy Lifestyle Practices. As you may recall, Step 3 was Develop and Practice Good Time Management.

Judge Horn reminds us that there is a positive correlation between lawyers who self-report a sense of subjective well-being and those who engage in certain habits or practices that are deemed “healthy.”  What are these practices?   They include regular exercise; attending religious services; personal prayer; hobbies; engaging in outdoor recreation; pleasure reading; and taking weeks of vacation. In a word, lawyers with other serious interests, those who successfully resist the “all work and no play” syndrome, also consider themselves the happiest.

This is simply common sense. Do not work yourself to death. Get a life. Develop hobbies or other serious, non-work related interests.   Lose yourself in a good book. Keep in touch with your family and friends. Take enough vacation to recharge your batteries. While these are simple ideals, they are essential if we are to achieve the kind of balanced fulfillment for which many lawyers are properly striving.

Next week, we will cover Step 5 – Live Beneath Your Means.

Friday Links

So you know that we are huge Bruce Springsteen fans, and so we must direct your attention to Caryn Rose’s “All 314 Bruce Springsteen Songs, Ranked From Worst to Best.” Dig in, folks, and be prepared to quibble. Of course, we would have placed “Thunder Road” at number one at “Backstreets” at number two, but that’s just us.

Five years ago this month, we published our obituary of R.E.M., which had then just announced its break-up. If you’d like to revisit that sad piece, you can do so by clicking here.

We here at Abnormal Use and Gallivan, White, & Boyd, P.A. welcome new attorneys Ashley Stratton and Jordan Crapps to the firm! Both will be working from our Columbia office.

For our favorite legal tweet of the week, we turn to the fierce debate over how many spaces belong after a period in the modern era. What do you think?

12 Steps Toward Fulfillment in the Practice of Law (Step 3)

Step 3 – Develop and Practice Good Time Management

In this week’s review of the 12-Steps Toward Fulfillment in the Practice of Law, we review Judge Horn’s Step 3 – Develop and Practice Good Time Management. As you may recall, Step 1 was Face the Facts, and Step 2 was Establish Clear Priorities.

Whatever time we spend on our work should be arranged for maximum productivity. Judge Horn suggests that there are at least five areas in which many lawyers could begin to make significant progress simply by paying closer attention. These include the following:  better planning; minimizing interruptions by phone or in person; more careful scheduling and planning of meetings; mastering the paper flow; and more thoughtful and efficient delegation.

As for telephone calls, to the extent possible, we must avoid interruptions while working on priority projects during the most productive period of our day. As far as meetings are concerned, we should make sure the purpose is consistent with our work plan. We should ask ourselves whether a meeting is really necessary, who should attend, and whether the timing is right. If preliminary analysis yields a green light, we should either prepare an agenda for the meeting, or insist that someone else prepare one and then stick to it. As for paperwork, we should touch the paper the minimum number of times necessary. We should read and deal with the paper in a time and manner consistent with our daily plan, not allowing the paper itself to become an inefficient interruption.

Finally, Judge Horn reminds us that if we live by the rule that the way to get things done right is to do it ourselves, we should just get over it. The time and energy we alone have to give, can and will soon run out. What we can accomplish by the thoughtful and efficient delegation to others is significantly less limited. Anything that can be done by others, should be done by them. Those who learn to delegate effectively will free up many of their own hours and see their productivity significantly rise.

Join us next week for Step 4 – Implement Healthy Lifestyle Practices.

Why It Takes More Than Talent

I have previously written about how I became a lawyer. What I failed to include were the bumps in the road along the way.

I was reminded of those bumps when recently reading a column in The Wall Street Journal by Aaron Kuriloff. The writer recalled his own collegiate sailing career, inspired by a 43 year old who was competing for the 2016 Brazilian Olympic sailing team. He wondered if he could have somehow made the U.S. sailing team. On considering this, the writer concluded that while talent matters, persistence also matters. “In fact, it is often the factor that decides which of the most talented make the Olympic team, and which of them win medals.”

This reminded me of my own decision to become a lawyer. I first had to take the LSAT; in fact, I took it twice. My scores were not very good; I was disappointed and wondered if was making the right career decision. I sought the counsel of a Furman University political science professor, also a lawyer. He cited my excellent academic record at Furman and told me that if I really wanted to be a lawyer, that I could do it, that there was a law school out there to which I could be admitted. He encouraged me to keep at it and I did. I was ultimately accepted by three of the four law schools to which I applied, and I graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law. No, I did not get to attend my first choice law school. But I became a lawyer and continue to practice 29 years later at the same law firm I started with in 1987.

Persistence matters.

Friday Links

With no headphone jack, how can we purchase the new iPhone? This is an ethical dilemma indeed!

Our editor, Jim Dedman, has planned the Mecklenburg County Bar’s second annual Halloween CLE event. Called “Ghosts, Graves, and The Occasional Murder House: A Halloween CLE,” the event takes place in Charlotte, North Carolina on October 19. For more information, please click here.

Tomorrow is the 25th anniversary of the release of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” single.

How long has it been since you revisited our Stella Liebeck McDonald’s hot coffee case FAQ?

Yesterday, we published the second post in Stuart Mauney’s “12 Steps Toward Fulfillment in the Practice of Law” series. If you’ve not been reading it, we’d encourage you to do so. A new post comes each Thursday.

12 Steps Toward Fulfillment in the Practice of Law (Step 2)

Last week, we began with Judge Carl Horn’s Step 1, Face the Facts. Today, we look at Step 2 – Establish Clear Priorities.

Whether single or married, and, if married with children, whether one or two of the parents work outside the home, there is a widespread sense today that there is never enough time. That is precisely why Judge Horn says that it is crucial to establish clear priorities. As someone once quipped, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” We must know at least where we want to go with our professional and personal lives and prioritize our time accordingly.

To avoid regret later in life, we must realize now that the time we spend with our children will be remembered as precious and as far more valuable than money or any temporary career achievement we may have to forego. Judge Horn suggests making time with your family a top priority and to be sure your daily and weekly schedules reflect it. This does not mean that lawyers, with or without children, should not be prepared to work very hard. It simply means that if we aim to live balanced lives, lines must be drawn beyond which we are not willing to go, at least not on a regular basis.

Judge Horn reminds us that making enough money should be a priority. However, the proper priority in a balanced life, that should be given to making enough money, must not become a license for workaholism or what one commentator called a “money-centered world view.” Money is a means to an end. If balance and happiness are among our life goals, we must be vigilant not to allow money to become an end in itself.

We must learn that if we are to realize professional fulfillment, we must establish and unequivocally live by clear priorities.

Step 2 – Establish Clear Priorities.

Join us next week for Step 3 – Develop and Practice Good Time Management.