Saturday, July 28, 2012

Hot Coffee

Susan Saladoff's Hot Coffee (2011) starts with the "infamous" lawsuit where a 79 year old woman, Stella Liebeck, successfully sued McDonald's for serving coffee that was "too hot" because she suffered severe burns when she accidentally spilled it on her lap.

Corporations seized upon this development and produced a PR bonanza that fooled most of the country including yours truly. At the time, I bought everything served by the mass media about the frivolous nature of this suit and the greed behind its motivation. Learn the truth, and well, not exactly.

Myth: The woman carelessly spilled her coffee while driving. Fact: The woman was a passenger and the car was parked, not moving.


Myth: The coffee was served at a standard serving temperature for coffee.
Fact: At the time, McDonald's procedure specified a serving pot temperature of 180-190 F. Your home machine will serve your cup at 145-155 F. Premium coffee shops do serve hotter, with Starbucks at 170 or so. A cup of coffee at 190 F is 20-30 degrees or more hotter than what most would reasonably expect.

Myth: The woman was greedy and out to make an easy fortune.
Fact:  Liebeck sought to settle with McDonald's for $20,000 to cover her actual and anticipated expenses. Her past medical expenses were $10,500; her anticipated future medical expenses were approximately $2,500; and her loss of income was approximately $5,000 for a total of approximately $18,000.  With this information, the company offered her $800.

Myth:  She was the first person to ever complain of the hot temperature.
Fact: From McDonald's own documents that emerged in the case, from 1982 to 1992 McDonald's received over 700 formal written complaints from customers with scalded lips or tongues, mouth blisters, as well as spill induced burns very similar to those in the lawsuit. McDonald's took no action to address the complaints.

Note: For every formal, written complaint, consider how many customers (including myself) just swore when they accidentally burned themselves with a sip, not recognizing that the coffee was 30 degrees hotter than normal.

Myth: The burns were not that severe.
Fact: The woman suffered severe 3rd degree burns requiring skin grafting and surgeries.

The film uses the McDonald's coffee case as a launch point to expose and illustrate the organized effort on the part of corporations to thwart the ability of anyone to hold them to account for injuries or deaths that occur due to negligence or other malfeasance.

This effort includes the likes of Karl Rove electioneering the defeat of judges sympathetic to injured plaintiffs as well as the proliferation of small print language in just about every contract that waives the right to sue and requires the use of arbitration where the "third party" arbitrator is paid by the corporation involved and faces termination with any judgement in favor of the injured party.

By the way, after the case, McDonald's reduced the temperature of its coffee into the 170s.

3 Comments:

Blogger Sirocco said...

I remember this incident and already was aware of most of this, but did not know the woman was the passenger or that the car was parked when the spill occurred, I always had the image of the spill occurring while the woman was driving ... which just goes to illustrate how long misinformation can linger even when you try to keep yourself informed on things.

8/02/2012 7:35 AM  
Anonymous Mariana said...

I watched the documentary too and it was an eye opener regarding the implications of tort reform. It is a 'must see'.
By the way, I met 'Liza' in person not long ago and we talked about how much we miss your posts. Welcome back!

8/03/2012 5:29 AM  
Blogger Liza said...

Welcome back, X4mr. I was looking at some blogs that I haven't read for a long time and happened to see that you've posted a couple of times recently.

Well, there's a lot going on. I hope you write more. Maybe you should write some about yourself too and your accomplishments at the university. Why not?

8/07/2012 2:40 PM  

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