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More than 20 years ago, 79-year-old Stella Liebeck ordered coffee at a McDonald’s drive-through in Albuquerque, N.M. She spilled the coffee, was burned, and one year later, sued McDonald’s. The jury awarded her $2.9 million. Her story became a media sensation and fodder for talk-show hosts, late-night comedians, sitcom writers and even political pundits. But cleverness may have come at the expense of context, as this Retro Report video illustrates. And below, a consumer affairs reporter for The Times reflects on how the world has changed since the lawsuit.
Tort reform refers to proposed changes in common law civil justice systems that would reduce tort litigation or damages. Tort actions are civil common law claims first created in the English commonwealth system as a non-legislative means for compensating wrongs and harm done by one party to another's person, property or other protected interests (e.g. physical injury or reputation, under libel and slander laws). Tort reform advocates focus on personal injury common law rules in particular.
In the United States, tort reform is a contentious political issue. US tort reform advocates propose, among other things, procedural limits on the ability to file claims, and capping the awards of damages. Supporters of the existing tort system, including consumer advocates, argue that reformers have mis-stated the existence of any real factual issue and criticize tort reform as disguised corporate welfare.
In Commonwealth countries as well as U.S. states including Texas, Georgia and California, the losing party must pay court costs of the opposing party.
*McDonalds required their coffee kept at 185 degrees Fahrenheit, plus or minus 5 degrees, significantly higher than other establishments. [Coffee is usually served at 135 to 140 degrees]
*An expert testified that 180 degree liquids will cause full thickness burns in 2 to 7 seconds.
*McDonalds knew before this accident that burn hazards exist with any foods served above 140 degrees.
*McDonalds knew that its coffee would burn drinkers at the temperature they served it.
*McDonalds research showed that customers consumed coffee immediately while driving.
*McDonalds knew of over 700 people burned by its coffee, including many third-degree burns similar to Ms. Liebeck's.
*McDonalds had received previous requests from consumers and safety organizations to lower their coffee temperature.
Evidence showed that McDonalds served their coffee so hot to save money. This let them get away with a cheaper grade of coffee and cut down on the number of free refills they had to give away. McDonalds executives testified that they thought it would be cheaper to pay claims and worker's compensation benefits to people burned by their coffee versus making any of these changes.
reply to post by SadistNocturne
I've always thought the woman concerned should have been counter sued for bringing the human race into dispute. Her actions finally proved that humans are not quite as intelligent as a small acacia tree.
Although to be fair, those responsible for awarding her damages are perhaps more culpable. I wonder how much they made out of this?
she was just looking to get paid.
reply to post by SadistNocturne
Oh no! Poor McDonald's that was taken for millions! Sheesh, give me a break. However, let me highlight the fact that the woman won not because she spilled her coffee, but because McDonald's served coffee hot enough to damage flesh upon touch.
She also didn't get millions, she got a little over 500k.
Want to see what 80's McDonald's coffee was able to do to human skin? Check this picture out: Link
And that's why she won. She wasn't a money grubbing old woman.
Of course, never let something go to waste. So why not protect big businesses and make it so people with a legitimate claim gets screwed? Now don't get me wrong, I'm totally against the sue happy culture we once had, and still have. (I saw a woman want to sue a guy because he "farted" on her...) But this is to protect big businesses from individuals in my opinion.