CHARLESTON -- The attorney who filed the $10 million lawsuit against McDonald's because his client had an allergic reaction to cheese on his Quarter Pounders is being treated to complimentary French fries from a statewide legal reform group.
West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse has sent Timothy D. Houston some McDonald's gift coupons, which the group calls an illustrative gesture to match the frivolous nature of his lawsuit.
"This lawsuit is a shakedown, pure and simple, so we present this greedy personal injury lawyer some fries with his shake; shakedown, that is," WV CALA Executive Director Steve Cohen said in a press release headlined "Fries with that Shake ... down?" "But while we make light of it, the stark reality is that West Virginia courts get a black eye, in a state whose reputation for legal fairness has suffered enough."
Teresa Toriseva, president of the West Virginia Association for Justice (formerly the West Virginia Trial Lawyers Association), said her group is trying to learn more about the case.
"West Virginia attorneys have a responsibility to ensure that requests for damages are based upon a good faith evaluation of facts that the attorney can support and demonstrate in a court of law," Toriseva said Thursday. "We are concerned because, on face value the request for damages appears to be excessive, but we don't know all of the facts. Right now, we're trying to learn more about the claim.
"At the same time, we firmly believe that our current court system has the necessary provisions in place to fully review the facts of this case, some of which may not be public, and determine whether or not the monetary demand is substantiated."
Meanwhile, Cohen said Houston's plaintiff, Jeromy Jackson, might have taken steps at the restauant to make sure employees knew he didn't want cheese on his burgers. But he says Jackson shouldn't done more.
"Clearly his client didn't take the most obvious step, which would have been to actually look and see if the burger actually had cheese on it," Cohen said. "Whatever happened to personal responsibility?
"This glaring example of jackpot justice is a reason West Virginia is called a 'judicial hellhole.'"
The state has been designated a "hellhole" every year since the American Tort Reform Association began ranking state legal climates in 2002. West Virginia ranks last for courts having stability and balance according to a number of other national groups cited by WV CALA.
"This legal extortion is a reason why Forbes Magazine this summer put West Virginia 50th for jobs," Cohen said. "Interestingly, our next door neighbor, Virginia, is the best state for jobs."
Toriseva said she hopes people don't use the McDonald's case to attack West Virginia's court systems.
"Our civil justice system must be preserved for those who seek fair compensation when they are the victims of true wrongdoing and negligence," she said. "It is our hope that billion-dollar corporations and the special interests who represent them don't misuse this apparent aberrant claim to attack our civil justice system in an attempt to get immunity from wrongdoing and further weaken the legal protections that our courts provide.
"Such misuse is just as bad as a frivolous lawsuit and probably worse."