Memorable Stories of Courtroom Victories
December 30, 2019 by Tricia Derr
Hot coffee, surgical conflicts of interest — these are (some of) our favorite stories from courtroom victories
It’s been a decade since Sara Lincoln and Tricia Derr founded our law firm, Lincoln Derr. In that time, they’ve built a team of attorneys and paralegals. They’ve moved offices, brought on new clients and cases, and done more than their fair share of time in the courtroom.
All of that time and effort has led to no shortage of stories. In honor the New Year and our 10-year anniversary, we asked them to tell us some of their favorites. Here are two courtroom victories that stand out.
Caution: Coffee is hot
Serving hot coffee became a liability back in the 1990s.
The case involved an elderly woman and a cup of piping hot coffee from McDonald’s. The woman won. McDonald’s had to pay, reportedly in the millions. Coffee purveyors across the country were unofficially on notice: Keep temperatures in check, or else.
In 2015, Tricia Derr and her team tested out their own “hot coffee” case.
The case involved a police officer in Raleigh, North Carolina, who claimed he was burned when his cup of Starbucks coffee spilled on his lap, causing third degree burns. Unlike the McDonald’s case, this cup of java was “on the house.” It was a token of gratitude given to a public service officer.
The police officer claimed Starbucks was negligent because the coffee lid “popped off” and the cup “collapsed,” causing the spill. Tricia and her team built their case around personal responsibility and the credibility of the officer. She called into question the underlying motivations of the police officer. In the end, she made the case to the jury that the officer’s story just didn’t add up.
“Starbucks was not negligent,” Tricia told jurors. “Starbucks served a product the way they always do, and it did what it was supposed to do: It was a good cup of coffee.” “You ought to give that officer his money back for exactly what he paid for that cup of coffee – absolutely nothing,” she argued.
The jury agreed. Starbucks was deemed not liable for the burns the officer sustained, and Lincoln Derr won.
Conflict of interest
About eight years ago, Sara Lincoln took on a sinus surgery case.
At issue was the tool used in a biopsy of the sphenoid sinus: The patient claimed an endoscope should have been used in the procedure, while the doctor had opted for surgical loupes. To make the case that the endoscope was the better option, opposing counsel brought in an expert from Chicago who had written extensively on the benefits of doing sinus surgery using endoscopes.
“He was a hard witness. He was mean and cranky, and when I took his deposition, I thought: How am I going to get this guy?” Sara recalled.
She started reading everything the expert had ever written on endoscopic surgery. At Lincoln Derr, the attorneys pride themselves on not delegating research to other members of the team. As Sara puts it: “We read all 4,000 pages, if necessary. We don’t give that to somebody else in our office to then put together a summary for us. We know every inch of the evidence before we set foot in a courtroom.”
That’s how Sara discovered the fine print at the end of each of the expert’s articles. It was a disclosure statement indicating that he had deep connections with the industry and was essentially being paid by the companies that manufacture endoscopes.
“We took that disclosure statement and blew it up for every single article he published, and I cross-examined all of his articles and said, ‘Here’s the statement you disclosed to the people who are going to rely on your literature, letting them know that the endoscopic industry was paying you to say these things,” Sara recalled. “How long have you been on the witness stand in this courtroom, telling all of these people that my client should have used an endoscope? When were you going to give themthe disclosure?”
The result: another win for Lincoln Derr.
“The guy actually wrote me a letter afterwards, apologizing to my client for having served as an expert against him,” Sara recalled. “That was a phenomenal moment.”
This is what it looks like to fight for your clients. One decade of stories down, many more to go.