Recently, I had a client tell me that she felt there were too many “frivolous” lawsuits filed in the United States. When I asked her to back up her statement, she referred to the lady who sued McDonalds after suffering injuries from spilled coffee. When I asked for other examples, my client could not think of any, but still had this belief, from this McDonalds coffee case, that people can cause harm to themselves and receive millions of dollars. My client told me that she thinks that lawsuits such as these drive up the costs for everyone else.
Unfortunately, this is a commonly held belief of many Americans, who hear about a sensational case on the news, and think there is an epidemic. This is no different than people watching the news, hearing about one crime, and immediately concluding that there is too much crime and feeling unsafe, even if overall crime is going down.
The media does not report about how much safer our lives are due to the fact companies are held financially responsible for their unsafe behavior. Without this regulation, companies would act with impunity, neglecting the safety of consumers, as can be seen by the unsafe business practices in many other countries. Instead, sensational stories get the headlines and attention.
Susan Saladoff’s documentary film, “Hot Coffee,” attacks the brainwashing that corporate America, especially very large billion dollar insurance companies, has inflicted on the American public. This film gives us the facts that many people do not know about the McDonalds coffee case. For instance, many people forget that this one incident occurred in 1992, over 20 years ago, but they still think that it represents an epidemic of lawsuits. Further, prior to this incident, McDonalds received hundreds of complaints that they were serving their coffee too hot, but did nothing to rectify it.
[For all the facts of the McDonalds coffee case, including answers to frequently asked questions, click here.]
The victim, Stella Liebeck, suffered third degree burns on six percent of her skin, burn injuries on 16 percent of her skin, had to undergo skin grafts and was hospitalized for eight days. Before hiring an attorney, Ms. Liebeck offered to settle her case with McDonalds for only $20,000, which McDonalds refused. McDonalds offered only $800. After hiring a personal injury lawyer and filing suit, a jury, after hearing ALL of the evidence at trial, awarded $200,000 in compensatory damages, which was reduced to $160,000. Further, because they found McDonalds’ conduct to be so reprehensible, the jury awarded 2.7 million dollars in punitive damages.
Unfortunately, many people think the story ends there and Ms. Liebeck spilled coffee and received almost three million dollars. However, the judge in the case reduced the punitive damages to only $480,000. After the appeals process, the parties ended up settling out of court for an amount less than $600,000.
At that time, McDonalds had coffee revenue of $1,350,000, per day.
Given the actual facts, it is amazing how many people are still influenced by this case and believe that a legitimate lawsuit actually effects a giant company like McDonalds, or that car accident injury claims cause insurance rates to go up, when insurance companies like Farmers, Mercury and Infinity are bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars every year.
Corporate America uses the McDonalds coffee case to influence jurors all over the United States into treating serious injury victims unfairly. Fortunately, “Hot Coffee” addresses many of these deceitful tactics. I highly recommend that all Americans watch this documentary.
For more information on “Hot Coffee” please visit the Hot Coffee website and also “like” this film on Facebook. Do not allow corporate greed to prevent injury victims from getting a fair trial, free from the brainwashing impact of one case 20 years ago in New Mexico.