I’m sure you’ve all seen cups with seemingly obvious warnings like “CAUTION: CONTENTS OF CUP ARE HOT”. Some companies even make a joke out of it:
It was posted on Tumblr and one commenter tried to explain it…
But then a commenter who knew the true story decided to set the record straight…
“That’s what the media smear campaign about her would have you believe, anyway. The truth of the matter is that the McDonald’s in question had been previously cited – on at least two separate occasions – for keeping so hot that it violated local health and safety regulations. The lady didn’t win her lawsuit because American courts are stupid; she won it because the McDonald’s she bought that coffee from was actively and knowingly breaking the law with respect to the temperature of its coffee at the time of the incident.
(I mean, do any of you have any idea what a third-degree burn actually is? Third-degree burns involve “full thickness” tissue damage. We’re talking bone-deep, with possible destruction of tissue. Can you even imagine how hot that cup of coffee would have to have been to inflict that kind of damage in the few seconds it came in contact with her skin?)
The woman injured was 79-years-old at the time of her injuries, and suffered third-degree burns to the pelvic region, (including thighs, buttocks, and groin), which in combination with lesser burns in the surrounding regions caused damage to an area totaling a whopping 22% of her body’s surface. These injuries required two years of extensive medical care, including multiple skin grafts, during her hospitalization.
She was uninsured, and sued McDonald’s for the cost of her past and projected future medical care. An estimated $20,000. The corporation offered a settlement of $800, a number so obviously ridiculous that I’m not even going to dignify it with further explanation.
The settlement number most often quoted is not the amount that the actual corporation paid; the jury in the first trial suggested a payment equal to a day or two of coffee revenues for McDonald’s, which at the time equaled more than $1 million per diem. The judge reduced the required payout to around $640,000 in both compensatory and punitive damages, and the case was later settled out of court for less than $600,000.
Keep in mind that at the time, McDonald’s already had over 700 cases of complaints about coffee-related burns on file, but continued to sell coffee heated to nearly 200 degrees Fahrenheit (around 90 degrees Celsius) as a means of boosting sales (their selling point was that one could buy the coffee, drive to a second location such as work or home, and still have a piping hot beverage). This, in spite of the fact that most restaurants serve coffee between 140 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit (60 to 71 degrees Celsius), and many coffee experts agree that such high temperatures are desirable only during the brewing process itself.
The Liebeck case was absolutely not an example of Litigation – happy Americans expecting corporations to cover their asses for their own stupidity, but we seem determined to remember it that way.
It’s an issue of liability, and the allowable lengths of capitalism, and even the way in which our society is incredibly dangerous for, and punitive towards, the uninsured. It was and is not a frivolous suit. Please check your assumptions and do your research before you turn a burn victim’s suffering into a throwaway punchline.”
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