I was going to keep mum after reading Caddyman’s incorrect assessment of the infamous McDonald’s coffee lawsuit, but now that shadowfax has posted part of the correct information, I guess that I will have to chime in with more of the actual info. Since I did a research paper on this topic for my Torts class, I am very familiar with the facts, even though I don’t recall the exact water temperature or the exact cash award at this point. (If anyone wants the actual numbers, I can dig around to find my old research paper.)
It was not a case of using water that was higher in temp than “state regulations”, but rather an issue of using water temperatures that were so high that anyone spilling that coffee on themselves would develop severe skin burns if their skin was covered by clothing. The reason for the ultra-high temps was that, by using these outrageously high water temperatures, McD’s was able to extract more flavor from less ground coffee. I.E.–a cost saving move, despite the reality that they had been successfully sued by a number of people over a period of several years for this type of injury.
In the case in question, the elderly woman was being transported by her grandson. The car was not moving when the spill occurred, and it took place because the woman opened the lid in order to add sugar or some other sweetener, and because the container was so overly full of overly hot liquid, some of it spilled on the sweatpants that she was wearing. Opening the container of coffee was a totally reasonable action on her part, because–obviously–she could not add anything to the coffee without opening the container. And, when you are riding in an older car that does not have cup holders (hers did not), where else but between your legs would someone most likely place a coffee cup while they remove the lid and add sweetener?
The burns that she received were so severe that she required multiple skin grafts on her thighs.
Initially, she only requested that McD’s pay the excess hospital costs that were not covered by her Medicare and private insurance. The requested amount was–IIRC–no more than a couple of thousand $$. When McD’s refused, she retained an attorney, and again this reasonable request for a few thousand $$ in compensation was refused. That resulted in a lawsuit that asked for punitive damages, in addition to compensation for her unreimbursed medical expenses.
When the jury saw the evidence regarding the actual temperature of the water used by McD’s, when they saw proof of numerous previous injuries of the same kind, and they heard expert medical testimony proving that water of this temperature will always cause severe skin burns when the person’s skin is covered by clothing, they not only decided in the plaintiff’s favor, but they added a HUGE punitive award that was about 20 times what her attorney had requested.
On appeal, the huge punitive award was drastically reduced, but what was not reduced was the amount of rhetoric and incorrect information that was bandied about by a couple of right-wing organizations. The net effect is that most Americans probably have a very distorted idea of the actual facts of the case, and somehow believe that McD’s was the victim.
In reality, McD’s acted in a callous manner toward their customers on an ongoing basis, and they only reduced the temperature of their coffee-brewing water after this case was adjudicated. If they had acted in a responsible manner in the first place, this case would never have gone to court. And, I say that as the holder of several hundred shares of McDonald’s stock. Yes, I like the dividends, but I also expect companies to act in a responsible manner, and McDonald’s DID NOT act responsibly for an extended period of time by using incredibly high–and dangerous–water temperatures for their coffee brewing.
It is fine to want to reduce the incidence of truly frivolous lawsuits, but this particular case was NOT friviolous, despite the Koch brothers’ funding of propaganda that distorted the actual facts of the case. And, I submit that anyone who claims that they would not file a lawsuit under the same circumstances is not being honest. You know and I know that you would file suit under the same circumstances.