Why You Should be Able to Sue McDonald's if You Spill Coffee on Yourself

If you talk about lawsuits today, some people will tell you that a lot of them are frivolous. There are a few famous cases that you might have heard about in which people sued a business for something that can usually only be described as resulting from their own stupidity.

For example, in 1992 Stella Liebeck became the poster child of "frivolous" lawsuits when she sued McDonald's after spilling hot coffee on herself while in a car after stopping at a McDonald's drive-through.

The Myth

Stella ordered her 49 cent coffee knowing that it was incredibly hot. She chose to attempt to drive while holding her coffee in the front seat. Stella clumsily spilled the coffee in her lap while driving  and slightly burned herself. Angry at her own stupidity, she turned against a big corporation for revenge. Stella received a final judgment for her trouble, and the burn from McDonald's coffee was an unprecedented occurrence.

The Reality

Stella was 79 years. She was a passenger in her grandson's vehicle. She ordered a 49 cent  coffee at the McDonal''s drive through, and was attempting to open the coffee to add cream and sugar while the car was not moving, when the cap popped off, spilling coffee in her lap. Because the coffee was heated to between 180-190 degrees fahrenheit, and because she was wearing sweatpants which absorbed the coffee and held it next to her skin, Stella received third degree burns on her inner thighs, perineum, buttocks, genital, and groin areas. These injuries resulted in eight days of hospitalization during which she received skin grafting for her burns. Stella was left scarred and disabled for more than a year.

What most stories about the incident also omit is that McDonald's  had been purposefully heating its coffee almost 30 degree above the temperature at which it may create third degree burns (either to sell cheaper coffee by conceling its low quality or to bring out the taste - depending on who you ask).

Stella's initial compensatory judgment of 200,000 was reduced to 160,000 and the punitive damages of 2.7 million were reduced to 480,000. Part of why the decision was so high was because McDonald's made 1.35 million in daily coffee sales at the time of the incident. Despite the fact that any human skin that came into contact with coffee heated to 180 degrees would create third degree burns in 2-7 seconds (the skin is burned away down to the muscle), and that McDonald's required that its coffee be held at between 180-190 degrees for serving, the jury assigned 20% of the blame for the injury to Stella for spilling the coffee and reduced her judgment accordingly.

McDonald's had previously settled similar cases amounting to more than $500,000 in compensation before Stella's case. Seven hundred people had previously reported being burned by McDonald's coffee.

Although the jury initially awarded a sizable reward, and the judge subsequently reduced this award, Stella had initially offered to settle for $20,000 before the trial but McDonald's had refused. The case was ultimately settled between Stella and the corporation for an undisclosed amount.

There will sometimes be frivolous lawsuits

There will sometimes be frivolous defenses to lawsuits.

What's most important is to know that not all of the urban legal mythologies used to attack the civil justice system are true.

You should be able to buy coffee without having it horribly disfigure you if you trip. People trip all the time. People spill all the time. Eventually, it will happen to everybody. When coffee is served at a temperature at which it will always melt human skin, you should be able to sue the person or corporation responsible - even if you were an idiot for spilling it on yourself. It is clear that one day, we will all have our turn being that idiot.

Of course, the moral of the story is to always question what you hear. When people have an agenda, whatever that agenda is, they are willing to bend the truth. Indeed, it should give everybody who has invoked the image of this case as a symbol of an out of control civil justice system a moment of pause to see how drastically some were willing to twist the truth to attempt to push their side of the issue.

So - keep suing McDonald's - even if you're a clumsy oaf (in which case your reward will be reduced accordingly) - unless and until McDonald's makes the temperature of its coffee at least a little less than the temperature at which it melts human skin.

That function is what our civil justice system is here for, to hold corporations accountable for their unsafe products.

For More Resources Debunking This Legal Myth

Public Citizen
Center for Justice and Democracy
Center for Economic and Policy Research
Association of Trial Lawyers of America

For a representative argument that this was a frivolous lawsuit click here.

If you or your organization is interested in learning more about or working on these types of civil justice issues, please feel free to contact me at cdugger@drummajorinstitute.org.

Cyrus Dugger
Senior Fellow in Civil Justice
Drum Major Institute for Public Policy

Tags: civil justice, civil justice system, lawsuits, lawyers, tort reform (all tags)

Comments

32 Comments

Re: Why You Should be Able to Sue McDonald's if Yo

I wholeheartedly agree.  If you've read the book "Distorting the Law", you'll get a good understanding on why this was not a "frivolous" lawsuit.  The book also outlines how right-wing interests manipulate and influence media narratives on torts to their advantage--and how the left, including trial lawyers, have not really bothered putting up a coherent and well-funded defense of the legal system.

by HellofaSandwich 2006-07-05 06:50AM | 0 recs
Re: Why You Should be Able to Sue McDonald's if Yo

That book comes highly recommended. It is seen by many as the foremost commentary on the "tort reform" movement. Everybody should give it a read. My work at the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy is focused on developing just the kinds of coherent defenses of the civil justice system that are currently so lacking.

by Cyrus Dugger 2006-07-05 07:25AM | 0 recs
Re: Why You Should be Able to Sue McDonald's if Yo

Thank you.  I knew there was more to the case, but it helps to have some of the salient points in one place.  

Please write more often.

by prince myshkin 2006-07-05 06:59AM | 0 recs
Re: Why You Should be Able to Sue McDonald's if Yo

Thanks a lot...I will.

If you want to read some of my earlier posts on civil justice issues check them out below.

Cheers,
Cyrus

The Tort Liability Index: Why You Should Feel Free to Ignore It

http://www.dmiblog.net/archives/2006/06/ the_tort_liability_index_why_y.html

NY Auto Insurance Nightmare Continues: The Option of Indefinite Denial & Access to Your Med. Insurance

http://www.dmiblog.net/archives/2006/06/ the_nightmare_continues_the_op.html

The Option of Indefinite Denial: NYS Legis. Considers Auto Insurance Nightmare

http://www.dmiblog.net/archives/2006/06/ the_option_of_indefinite_denia.html

Top Three Misconceptions on Which the Class Action "Fairness" Act is Based

http://www.dmiblog.net/archives/2006/06/ top_three_misconceptions_on_wh.html

The Top Seven Bad Things About the Class Action "Fairness" Act
http://www.dmiblog.net/archives/2006/06/ the_top_seven_bad_things_about.html

The Top (and only) Two Good Things About the Class Action "Fairness" Act

http://www.dmiblog.net/archives/2006/06/ the_top_and_only_two_good_thin.html

by Cyrus Dugger 2006-07-05 07:50AM | 0 recs
Re: Why You Should be Able to Sue McDonald's

I also followed the case and I'm glad to see someone pointing this all out.

There is one other thing that I wish was more noted - the affect of litigation and trial on a 79 year old lady. As an attorney myself, I can tell you, I have NEVER seen one person who enjoyed a lawsuit, even when they won. Those who would trivialize what this woman went through have never been through a deposition, responded to a discover request, countersued, had a medical examination by a hostile doctor, and many of the other "fun" things you go through.

even if we assume that the settlement was for $640K (which I doubt), then attorneys' fees would be around $200-$250K (oh what an outrage! her attorney's didn't fight her case for 3 years for free! I'm sure McDonald's attorneys were paid just as much if not more), court costs, probably ~ $75k, and medical bills and subrogation (what do you think 8 days in the hospital costs?), she probably netted about $200K - that's her compensation for 3rd degree burns over 20% of her body, disfigurement, disability, and three years of litigation.

by bushsucks 2006-07-05 08:13AM | 0 recs
Re: Why You Should be Able to Sue McDonald's

I think that you make some great points. Even when litigants win in the civil justice system they can never be made entirely whole again. In fact, they have to go through the horrible series of hurdles that you mention, and sometimes never even get anything even when they (at least arguably) should have.

by Cyrus Dugger 2006-07-06 08:30AM | 0 recs
Re: Why You Should be Able to Sue McDonald's if Yo

Counterpoint:

Myth:  Except for your statement that she "...slightly burned herself", the rest of your statements are in fact generally true.  

Fact:  No one put the hot coffee between Liebeck's legs except Liebeck.  She knowingly placed an extremely hot object right between her legs.  Where I'll agree with you is that 190 degrees is WAAAYYY too hot.  Nevertheless, I'll still submit that Liebeck is more negligent than McDonald's, and therefore, should have been barred from recovery.

Myth:  "Someone" is preventing you from suing McDonald's if you spill hot coffee on yourself.

Fact:  Anyone can sue anyone else at any time, any where, for any alleged misdeed.  Period.  You don't even need a lawyer.  

"You should be able to buy coffee without having it horribly disfigure you if you trip. People trip all the time. People spill all the time. Eventually, it will happen to everybody."

No.  It.  Won't.  

Democrats have to understand that while regulation of corporate America is generally appropriate, people also have to take responsibility for their own actions.  That was the fundamental problem most people had with this case.  Of COURSE coffee is hot.  Duh!  Don't put a full, brimming cup of very hot liquid between your legs and then drive off.  McDonald's mistake was selling their coffee at such a high temp.  That temperature could have (and subsequently was) lowered to a less dangerous level.  

Our system generally works pretty well.  By and large, legitimate plaintiffs will recover and frivolous plaintiffs will not.  Not one of us here was party to the suit, nor a member of the jury.  I fully agree that we should look with a critical eye on any reports not directly coming from either the parties or the jury.  

Again, my point is that if we Democrats disparage personal responsibility, we are what our detractors call us:  a nanny.  

(disclosure:  I'm a practicing defense trial lawyer.)

by weinerdog43 2006-07-05 03:31PM | 0 recs
Re: Why You Should be Able to Sue McDonald's if Yo

Do you know all the details of the case?

Liebeck wasn't driving.  Her adult grandson was.  In fact, when the coffee was spilt, the car wasn't moving at all--it was fully stopped at a curb in the parking lot.  She placed the coffee between her legs because she lacked a flat surface in the car and she wanted to add sugar and cream to it.

And, I know this is conjecture, but I'm going to assume that if she knew that the coffee was hot enough to damage her genitals, she wouldn't have put the coffee between her legs.

by HellofaSandwich 2006-07-05 03:39PM | 0 recs
Re: Why You Should be Able to Sue McDonald's if Yo

Who cares if she was driving or riding?
She put the coffee between her legs.  That is assumption of the risk.  Period.

You are missing my point.  Yes, the coffee was too hot.  But I'll submit that 95% of all coffee sold is HOT.  Unless she wanted lukewarm coffee, placing it between her legs is negligent.  She bears some responsibility here and to argue otherwise is to deny reality.  

I'll also submit to the author exactly how is this issue helpful to Democrats and the Democratic Party?  Sure, it's great for ATLA, but how is this issue helpful to us Dems?

by weinerdog43 2006-07-05 04:39PM | 0 recs
Re: Why You Should be Able to Sue McDonald's if Yo

I laughed at this woman too at first. But for me, it is based on one major factor - does the average commercal coffee have the ability to cause so much damage.

Another factor- Was the cup built in a way that it is reasonable to remove the lid without ever spilling as long as there is no real major negligence by the user. McDonalds is to be held to a higher standard than a restaurant which would serve coffee on the premises in an open cup. McDonalds selling point for that lady is the convenience of the drive-thru. It is big enough to take advantge of economies of scale to not only come up wth compettitve pricing for their food but also cheap safe packaging for its customers.

Having said that, punitive damages should be either taxed at a much higher rate or be put in a government fund(hey, the idea  is to punish the wrongdoer, not reward the others). Lawyers should also be given a cap on punitive damage percentages they collect on. Lawyers suck up way too much money in the economy and the democrats have done squaat about controlling this problem. (not that the republicans have the answers - caps on medical malpractice is not the answer, weeding out frivolous lawsuits is and making it easier for reverse recovery of damages).

by Pravin 2006-07-05 04:53PM | 0 recs
Re: Why You Should be Able to Sue McDonald's if Yo

Pravin, great points.  I'll be the 1st to admit that myself and my peers suck up way too much money better spent elsewhere.  My hope is that the author will use your comment as a springboard to address creative ideas instead of rehashing an old case that generates a lot of heat, but very little light.

One suggestion:  How about increased funding for Alternative Dispute Resolution?  There is a company out there that does ADR over the internet much like a Dutch auction.  (Cybersettle)  Each side presents a settlement range unknown to the other, and if the ranges match, you have a settlement.  Any other ideas out there that are positive besides bashing one side or the other?

by weinerdog43 2006-07-05 06:14PM | 0 recs
Re: Why You Should be Able to Sue McDonald's if Yo

If the money goes to a government fund who pays the medical bills? Who pays for lost work, who pays for lost lifetime spend in a hospital?

The idea is to punish a company but when a person is hurt that person needs help.

by Our Gal in Brooklyn 2006-07-06 06:44AM | 0 recs
Re: Why You Should be Able to Sue McDonald's if Yo

I was talking about punitive damages which are usually awarded on top of the damages you are referring to.

by Pravin 2006-07-06 11:21AM | 0 recs
Re: Why You Should be Able to Sue McDonald's if Yo

I think that you're right that there may be  arguments for diverting punitive damages to general funds funds. My question though is of all the people to receive what you somewhat imply is a "windfall" who is more deserving than the person who has been seriously injured or affected?

It's a close question, but why not give it to the person whose genitals are horribly burned over the general public?

by Cyrus Dugger 2006-07-06 08:11AM | 0 recs
Re: Why You Should be Able to Sue McDonald's if Yo

There is no real scientific reasoning for what i proposed. That's why I suggested maybe a higher tax for such damages may be an option also. When I think of it, I think a higher tax option would be preferable to outright diverting all punitive damages to the government. This will give some incentive, but not an obscene lottery mentality among lawyers to look for punitive damages as the holy grail.

I am afraid to veer offtopic, but I think lawyers who operate on a contingency should not only share in the profits, but also share in the damages against their client in case the lawsuit is borderline frivolous.

by Pravin 2006-07-06 11:25AM | 0 recs
This branch had previously had a lot of complaints

about its coffee being too hot.  Specifically, about 150 in the previous year.

Think about that---150 complaints.  I have no idea how many people bother to complain when they think something's wrong, but it can't be higher than 1/10th.

Furthermore, McDonald's also had a free refill policy at the time---but it was never used by the customers, becuase they would have to wait around for their coffee to cool before drinking it.

Long story short, McDonald's was behaving in a manner it knew was dangerous to its consumers, and doing so to enhance its bottom line.  They learned that it was cheaper to not make the coffee so hot after the jury taught them that.  If it wasn't for that jury, people would still be getting badly burned at the rate they were then.  

by bosdcla14 2006-07-05 06:12PM | 0 recs
Re: Why You Should be Able to Sue McDonald's if Yo

Riding or driving: I would submit to you that placing coffee between one's legs while driving is riskier than when riding.

I would also submit to you that there's a difference between hot coffee and dangerous coffee.

Yeah, she could have been more careful.  But should someone in her position have to bear the brunt of the financial damages caused by the accident?  I don't think so, not when that McDonald's chain was being so negligent.

As for how this helps Democrats--well, perhaps only loosely.  But if people no longer get the impression that the justice system is being wildly abused/misused, and that many torts are justified and that trial lawyers aren't necessarily blood-sucking opportunists, at least people wouldn't view someone like John Edwards so suspiciously.  Or, lines like, "they're all in the pocket of those bastard trial lawyers", would lose a bit of bite.

by HellofaSandwich 2006-07-05 09:20PM | 0 recs
Re: Why You Should be Able to Sue McDonald's if Yo

Companies have been allowed to run roughshod over the safety and rights of everyday people. I find it hard to believe that a Democrat wouldn't see that protecting a person's ability to sue for the money they need to pay the medical bills caused by a negligent corporation is something we need to protect. The rights of the little guy against the corporations is something we need to defend. Why are you stickign up for McDonalds? Do you stick up for the coal company that let those W.Va miners die because of their negligence? What about Exon, should they pay for the health problems they've caused countless people where I live because they spilled oil in Newtown Creek in Brooklyn?

by Our Gal in Brooklyn 2006-07-06 06:39AM | 0 recs
Re: Why You Should be Able to Sue McDonald's if Yo

Of course she bears some responsibility.  That's why the jury found her 20% contributorily negligent.  You can quibble with that figure, but at the end of the day I don't think you're more qualified to establish the exact percentages of liability than the jury who sat there and heard all the evidence.

We all accept the ordinary, foreseeable risks of our actions.  When you put coffee between your legs, sure, you accept the risk that you might get burned.  For some people, the analysis of this case begins and ends there.  But the fact is, it's not self-evident that you accept the risk of serious third-degree burns from an everyday cup of coffee.

If the cup had negligently been filled with battery acid instead of coffee, I'm sure you wouldn't accept the argument that she assumed the risk of getting burned.  You'd accept that permanent disfigurement from acid burns is a qualitatively different injury from an ordinary hot-liquid burn.  By the same token, the third-degree burns this plaintiff suffered are far worse than what you'd expect from hot coffee.  She was unknowingly subjected to a far more dangerous risk than the one she assumed.

by Steve M 2006-07-06 08:02AM | 0 recs
Re: Why You Should be Able to Sue McDonald's if Yo

Thanks for your comments. Personal responsibility is important for everybody, however it is usually contorted by conservatives
in a problematic way. If you think about it, most conservative arguments rely on this concept. I will say more about this if you respond to my comments.

Point 1

Yes. Stellaa was at fault for spilling coffee on herself. If Stella had not opened her coffee for twenty minutes she would have completely avoided being burned. The point is not whether Stella is stupid for spilling coffee, the point is that it is necessarily forseeable that some people will spill coffee from a flimsy cup, and that if they do so they should not receive third degree burns. Note also that Stella's reward was reduced by 20% for her fault in spilling the coffee.

Point 2

I think that you miss the crux of the post when you say that nobody is keeping you from suing McDonald's. The "tort reform" movement, (arguably the anti-civil justice movement) contorted the facts of the case to advance limitations on litigants' access to the courts by way of recovery caps and other measures.

Point 3

No it won't? ----- I think that this is exactly the appeal/approach of conservative arguments generally. To say no I won't eventually spill coffee, therefore the rules should be unforgiving (or changed to be so), therefore grandma Stella should just sit in the hospital with third degree burns for a week when McDonald's could easily serve its coffee at a safe temperature, is I think, the crux of how conservatives structure their arguments. That argument is a I could never make a mistake. Next time you spill coffee, at home or at work, or the next time you trip on the street, I urge you to think about your argument.

The point is why heat coffee to 180-190 degrees when you can heat it to 140 degrees and safely serve it?

What is the point of serving coffee at a temperature at which it will cause you third degree burns within 5-7 seconds if you drink it?
If served at 180-190 degrees, you can't drink it until it cools, so why not serve it at the temperature you have to wait for it to cool to?
McDonald's brewed its coffee at an even higher temperature. If coffee needs to be brought to a high temperature to taste good, this can be done while brewing, and then it can be allowed to drop to 140 degrees.

McDonald's had already received many complaints about its coffee, had settled $500,000 in lawsuits, but then took no protective action in response to these incidents.

by Cyrus Dugger 2006-07-06 08:04AM | 0 recs
Re: Why You Should be Able to Sue McDonald's if Yo

1st, Cyrus, thank you for your civil and articulate response.  You are a credit to ATLA.

My challenge remains:  How exactly is this helpful to Democrats?  

Americans can sue anyone they want.  The 'tort reform' movement is no different than many other movements in our country.  It is not some sort of corporate fake movement.  There are thousands of people who think personal responsibility is good, and frivolous lawsuits are bad.  

Again, I don't want to denigrate your argument that the plaintiff did not merit the jury's award.  The jury spoke and I completely respect that.  I disagree with their verdict, because I think a MSJ should have been rendered prior to this even reaching the jury.  But i did not hear the evidence, so I'll completely defer to their verdict.  

One last point:  when (or if) do we as Democrats draw a line at what is a frivolous suit?  In other words, do we try to defend the plaintiff who tries (and fails) to cut his hair with a lawnmower, or do we pick and choose our battles?  

I for one am not willing to let ATLA define me as a Democrat any more than the DLC.  This is a big tent here, and while I think that the plaintiff is responsible for her own problems, I'm perfectly willing to tip my hat to those who disagree.  

by weinerdog43 2006-07-06 04:54PM | 0 recs
Re: Why You Should be Able to Sue McDonald's if Yo

There is personal responsibility and there is corporate responsibility. Who here hasn't spilled coffee? Mc Donalds got hit with large punitive damages because they failed to respond to previous injuries caused by the overheated coffee.

How does this help Democrats?

Democrats believe that big corporations don't deserve better treatment under the law than individuals, but Republicans do.

by FishOutofWater 2006-07-06 05:30PM | 0 recs
Re: Why You Should be Able to Sue McDonald's if Yo

It is not some sort of corporate fake movement.

Come now. Do you really think that tort reform is some kind of grassroots movement? Tort reform might be popular with ordinary people because it pushes the right buttons - "that damn lazy woman who poured coffee on herself at McDonalds doesn't deserve a red cent!" - but this is a matter of actual concern to very, very few individuals. Corporations, insurance companies, and the staff of Reason magazine are just about the only people who have a vested interest in tort reform.

Even doctors have been badly suckered. Malpractice premiums have NOT dropped in states where damage caps have been enacted. Rather, insurance co. profit margins have increased.

To me, the tort reform situation is rather like the "death tax" whines. We all know that the estate tax affects almost no one except Paris Hilton, and yet the GOP has been very successful in convincing its base that "darn it, it's just not fair that we'll have to sell pappy's farm now that he's gone and died, thanks to that darn death tax!"

Sure, you could make some VERY tenuous argument that consumers benefit from tort reform because lower tort liability will allow makers of consumer goods to reduce prices. (Of course, they also might just pocket that extra cash rather than pass along any discounts to consumers.) But even if that did happen, the effect would be so diffuse as to be impossible to feel.

And to answer your question: We turn this into a winner for Democrats by proposing that punitive damages stop being given to plaintiffs and instead get deposited into a general public insurance fund.

by DavidNYC 2006-07-06 06:21PM | 0 recs
Re: Why You Should be Able to Sue McDonald's if Yo

"We turn this into a winner for Democrats by proposing that punitive damages stop being given to plaintiffs and instead get deposited into a general public insurance fund,"

Exactly, and thank you.  My point is that I'm not interested in the day to day fights that typify current Democratic interest group politics.  Cyrus is obviously a well meaning and intelligent guy with whom I respect.  BUT, his diatribe against personal responsibility is deeply offensive to many Americans and I am not going to let it pass.

by weinerdog43 2006-07-07 05:43PM | 0 recs
Re: Why You Should be Able to Sue McDonald's if Yo

Hi,

Thank you for your response.

I am struggling to see how your challenge remains. The larger purpose of the post was to look at an example championed by the tort reform movement (I prefer to call it the anti-civil justice movement) and to show how it was contorted by said movement. There is, like it or not, a coordinated effort supported by the current president to curtail our access to civil justice. The post gave an example of the efforts of said movement.

As stated in previous comments on this post, the best overview of this movement is offered by

William Haltom and Michael McCann, Distorting the Law: Politics, Media, and the Litigation Crisis (University of Chicago Press 2004)

I hope that I am not a credit the the ATLA, or a credit to any particular interest group, but instead credit to a truthful and honest dissection of the issues (so i don't take association with any group - aside from the Drum Major Instiute and a few others- as a compliment).

There are legal standards for frivolous lawsuits just like there are standards for malpractice. One might say that both standards should be easier to meet, but this is an issue of adjusting the standard, not its existence or non-existence as you imply.

Indeed, despite passing a bill aimed at getting more class actions thrown out by moving them to federal courts, Congress still chose not to change the standard for what constituted a "frivolous" class action. One may argue that federal judges will better apply said standard, but the point is that Congress was satisfied, at least in principle, with the current standard.

Democrats should defend our right to access our courts to the fullest extent possible. It often the most disadvantaged groups (as I will describe in a future post) that are in most need of judicial and administrative remedies.

I assume that Democrats, more than Republicans, represent and support said vulnerable groups.

Moreover, as chronicled online today, corporate misconduct is incredibly high.

A recent survey found that 74% of 4000 of employees surveyed said that they had observed misconduct in the previous year. at http://www.canadianunderwriter.ca/issues /ISArticle.asp?id=57875&issue=070520 06.

If their misconduct is high, and the government isn't doing anything about it, what other mechanism is there for keeping them in check besides lawsuits?

by Cyrus Dugger 2006-07-07 06:01AM | 0 recs
Re: Why You Should be Able to Sue McDonald's if Yo

Hi Cyrus.  I'm back and I thank you for your excellent responses.

Have you ever tried a case?  Have you ever tried a case where you know the judge has received thousands of dollars from your opponent for his 're-election' campaign?  I could go on, but I'd rather not.  Suffice to say that your arguments are great, but in the real world, you are just wrong.  There ARE people not sponsored by corporate America that have deeply held beliefs that they individually are responsible for their own actions.  They believe that if you elect to cut your hair with a lawnmower is not the fault of Briggs & Stratton.  

If you are arguing that Americans are somehow lacking access to the legal system, I'd love to get some of whatever you are smoking.  My fundamental disagreement with your post is that your argument emasculates Americans.  Americans hate a wussy.  We love a winner.  

If we Democrats are to ever regain the upper hand, we have got to stop being the party of wussies.  I have no problem in plaintiffs making a case against negligent defendants and especially nasty corporate crooks and scum.  I hope we do it more often.  But glorifying the plaintiff in this case is just wrong.  Let's pick a better example.  Case in point:  John Edward's case with the little girl in the pool.  She didn't do anything wrong and yet had her guts sucked out.  Unlike this case, she didn't elect to do a crotch grab with hot coffee.

In summary, please pick a better example than this case.  There are tons out there.  Battle lines are long since drawn.  I don't disagree with much of what you are arguing, but in the legal field, we try to pick our battles.  This is not the poster child case for what is wrong w/American jurisprudence.  I'm dropping out of this thread as I've got a lot of great things to do this weekend.  Have a great weekend yourself.  Adios.

by weinerdog43 2006-07-07 06:32PM | 0 recs
Why You Should be Able to Sue McDonald's

A wholehearted recommend!

I've been trying to push what your saying for years -- to a lot of deaf ears.

Thanks for your eloquence

by v2aggie2 2006-07-05 09:06PM | 0 recs
This post rules

And it showed me the light on that case.  Until now, I'd thought of that case as frivolous, precisely because I lacked the information this diarist gave.

Thanks.

by teknofyl 2006-07-06 02:39PM | 0 recs
Who's at fault?

You still have yet to convince me that McDonald's is at fault here.  I've known from day 1 that the woman in question was a passenger, not a driver.  Yes, it's terrible that she got burnt.  But, given the sequence of events, I think it's her own fault.  She tried to hold a steaming hot cup of coffee between her legs.  

Is the coffee "too hot"?  It's as hot as it is.  Evidently McDonald's makes money serving it at the heat it serves it at.  They don't force anybody to buy their product, nor do they force anybody to spill it on themselves.  

I think a lot of Americans wish to see people be in charge of their own lives, instead of passing on the blame for accidents like this.  I disagree with this argument:


When coffee is served at a temperature at which it will always melt human skin, you should be able to sue the person or corporation responsible - even if you were an idiot for spilling it on yourself. It is clear that one day, we will all have our turn being that idiot.

There was never any deception about how hot the coffee was.  Burn prevention was the responsibility of the customer.  This is not a situation analogous to, say, a defective air bag, where the customer has been lulled into a false sense of security.

Arguing less relevant points, such as just how bad the burns were, whether the woman was driving or was a passenger, or that she was trying to add cream to the coffee, may be the kind of thing that wins sympathy from jurors.  But you are not changing the minds of the general public.  As a word of advice, I'd recommend not featuring this case as an example of why tort law should not be reformed.  You're not going to win over a lot of people.  

by RickD 2006-07-07 04:14AM | 0 recs
Re: Who's at fault?

Sheesh.  If I pre-heat my coffee cups and home equipment because I want it hot, it won't be as hot as the Mc Donalds coffee was served unless I put it on a hot plate set at just under boiling.  If I serve my own hot coffee, I use a sturdy cup - ceramic for indoor and insulated coated stainless steel for the car.  Mc Donalds served scalding hot coffee in a flimsy container.  It wasn't simply that the coffee was hot.

Statistically speaking, the accident was foreseeable and preventable. In a human population there will always be 50% of people of average and below average intelligence. The same goes for clumsiness and a range of other issues. A business that serves a large number of people has a responsibility to all of us to try to design systems that are safe. If many events occur that show a system - such as Mc Donalds scalding hot coffee in flimsy styrofoam cups - is unsafe, it is appropriate to apply punitive damages to unresponsive corporations that refuse to fix their unsafe products and systems. The punitive damages are a strong incentive to be safe.

I am thankful that I have above average intelligence and dexterity. I believe in taking personal responsibility. But my libertarian streak is tempered by the awareness that if I am lucky I will live to a ripe old age and will become more dependent on others. Systems need to be designed for communities of people, not ideal individuals.

by FishOutofWater 2006-07-07 05:16AM | 0 recs
Re: Who's at fault?

While I too ridiculed this woman initially, and am still willing to give her a portion of the blame, it really comes down to McDonalds coming up with more secure packaging for a dangerously hot product if they want to make extra money in a drivethru service. THey have had complaints before - so it was not a freak occurrence. The thing is McDonalds had reasonable warning and the means to prevent this thing from happening for the most part. I think people take a knowing risk when they order coffee in a drivethru - it is possible to burn themselves and experience pain. But the risk assumed is not third degree burns or some people will prefer to walk and get counter service.

by Pravin 2006-07-07 11:22AM | 0 recs
Huge spit take at the airport

I got a cup of coffee and a McMuffin in the departure lounge. I took one small sip and sprayed it out of my mouth. It was hot like microwave-superheated-explode-out-of-the -cup hot. It was molten lava hot. It ridiculously HOT

by bernardpliers 2006-07-07 06:00AM | 0 recs

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