January 5, 2005

Okay, can we talk about Stella Liebeck?

You’ve heard of her, even if you don’t know her name. She’s the infamous McDonald’s Coffee Lady, the one whom advocates of tort reform hold up as an example of how our legal system is rotten to the core. The facts that most people know are as follows: in the early 1990s, Ms. Liebeck sued McDonald’s because a cup of hot coffee spilled in her lap and burned her. She won a judgment of $2.9 million, which was later reduced to $640,000.

And to this day, people are all like, “We’re surrounded by whiners, people have to take responsibility for their own actions, it’s ridiculous that somebody should get millions or hundreds of thousands of dollars because she spilled some coffee, look how bloated and out of control our legal system and our sense of personal responsibility have become.”

Of course, none of these people bother to look at what actually happened, which is that McDonald’s kept its coffee more than fifty degrees hotter than normal home coffee, that they had received over 700 complaints about their coffee’s burning people in the ten years before the lawsuit, that Ms. Liebeck suffered third-degree burns for which she was in the hospital for eight days and had to get skin grafts, that the car wasn’t moving when she opened the coffee, that she had tried to settle the case for $20,000 but McDonald’s had refused, and that McDonald’s own quality-assurance manager admitted on the stand that their coffee was unsafe to drink as served.

This case is not an example of how tort law in this country needs to be reformed. It’s an example of how corporations are evil and can spin anything to their advantage and must all be destroyed.

Except, of course, that McDonald’s chocolate-chip cookies are so damn good.

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15 Responses to Okay, can we talk about

  1. Jennifer says:

    While I definitely agree with you that people jump to conclusions (especially about the McDonald’s coffee case) without knowing all the facts, I don’t know that I would get “what really happened” from the website of the an organization that is owned, operated and completely controlled by the plaintiff’s bar.

    The McFlurries are excellent, as well.

  2. Isn’t it horrible? It’s like some demented Rashomon–do you believe McCarthy or Stalin?

    In this case, though, I still think I side with McCarthy, given that Satan (who is ruling our country at present) comes down squarely on the side of Stalin.

  3. Bo says:

    Faustus, please read *Fast Food Nation* and you will never eat fast food again. Ever. I am concerned for your health.

  4. S says:

    Just a clarifying point, the ATLA is the Association of Trial Lawyers of America and the organization deliberately did not describe itself as a plaintiffs bar organization. While its origins are as a plaintiffs bar organization, today many defense lawyers are also members.

  5. Jess says:

    You hit it on the head, Faustus. I don’t know about the cookies, but the mainstream media completely distorted that case. Did everyone think the jury and judge were completely deluded?

    Big corporations would let us all die in the name of saving a buck, if it weren’t for the legal ramifications. Even with litigation risks, they still try unscrupulous shit. Imagine if they didn’t face these potential consequences.

  6. The lawsuits against McDonald’s by fat people who ate too many fries there, on the other hand, were a little more troubling. Then again, they just got thrown out of court . . . In any event, “Super Size Me” is also enough to scare you away from McDonald’s forever (I mean, who the hell wants food that’ll make him impotent?).

  7. orbicon says:

    I once careened into a curb on a rainy day when driving at approximately 60 miles per hour while eating a bagel and holding a hot coffee. While I snapped both axels of my beloved Volkswagen and went airborne for nearly 5 seconds, I didn’t spill a drop of my coffee and finished my bagel while I waited for the tow truck.
    I’m not sure how that fits in here, but thanks for letting me share.

    Oh, by the way, I nominated you for a bloggie. For the best writing category. Everyone else should nominate you too. I think the choice is clear.

  8. Adam875 says:

    Unless they’ve changed them since I ate them last (quite some time ago), they’re “chocolatey chip cookies,” which is just more proof that McDonald’s is evil. I mean, if you’re gonna eat crap, shouldn’t you at least get real chocolate?

  9. “Chocolatey chip cookies” . . . sounds like “cheese food.” Something just ain’t right about that.

  10. Coffeedog says:

    As a kid growing up in the 60’s we used to go to McD’s after church on Sunday – it was such a huge treat for us.

    Yes, corporations are evil…unfortunately we have a a pres that encourages that behavoir too.

  11. Brian says:

    Hmm, after reading “Fast Food Nation”, I was dying to a) visit the factory to see the cool machinery that makes the fries, and b) go eat some of those tasty fries.

    And after Supersize Me, I just wanted to sleep with the star. Is that wrong?

    I prefer the McDonaldland cookies, which are really just animal crackers, but oh so tasty.

  12. jon collins says:

    Jennifer couldn’t be more wrong. The facts are actually not in question. I studied the case in my civil liberties class in college. Everything on that website is perfectly accurate, despite the source. I think even the $20,000 original suit figure isn’t stated as damningly as it could be: The original suit wasn’t for “emotional suffering” but simply to pay for the surgery she had to undergo. When McDonalds wouldn’t even do that, the jury (was there a jury or was it a judge alone?) was rightly offended and issued the whopping 2.9 mil judgement. Those monetary damages aren’t just for the pain and suffering of the vicitim, but as a means to punish companies.

  13. Jeffrey says:

    Clearly, for the good of humanity, the McDonald’s corporation should be destroyed.

  14. Jeffrey is right. Everyone knows that Burger King kicks McD’s ass.

  15. Alex says:

    Thanks, i never knew, spin is a powerful thing.

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