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.