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View Full Version : In defence of Stella Liebeck


Dayna36
11-02-04, 09:14 PM
Stella link (http://www.atlanet.org/ConsumerMediaResources/Tier3/press_room/FACTS/frivolous/McdonaldsCoffeecase.aspx)

Stella Liebeck is the woman who sued McDonalds after she suffered a serious burn after spilling a cup of coffee on her lap. Successful frivolous lawsuits have been referred to as Stella awards but in her case was it really frivolous? Decide for yourself.
Someone brought up this case in the joke section that is why I am posting this here.


McDonald's Scalding Coffee Case
Read about the Wall Street Journal article on this case

Critics of civil justice and juries have pounced on the McDonald's coffee case, calling it 'frivolous' and 'laughable'. However, it was McDonald's own testimony and actions that led a jury to rule against it.

Related Article:

'ATLA Past President Howard Twigg’s June 1997 ‘President’s Page’ on the McDonald’s Case

Facts About the Case

Stella Liebeck of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was in the passenger seat of her grandson's car when she was severely burned by McDonald's coffee in February 1992. Liebeck ordered coffee that was served in a Styrofoam cup at the drive-through window of a local McDonald's.


Critics of civil justice often charge that Liebeck was driving the car or that the vehicle was in motion when she spilled the coffee; neither is true. After receiving the order, the grandson pulled his car forward and stopped momentarily so that Liebeck could add cream and sugar to her coffee. Liebeck placed the cup between her knees and attempted to remove the plastic lid from the cup. As Liebeck removed the lid, the entire contents of the cup spilled into her lap.


The sweatpants Liebeck was wearing absorbed the coffee and held it next to her skin.

Stella Liebeck's Injury and Hospitalization

A vascular surgeon determined that Liebeck suffered full thickness burns (or third-degree burns) over 6 percent of her body.


Liebeck suffered burns on her inner thighs, perineum, buttocks, and genital and groin areas.


She was hospitalized for eight days, during which time she underwent skin grafting and debridement treatments (the surgical removal of tissue).
Stella Liebeck's Initial Claim

Liebeck sought to settle her claim for $20,000, but McDonald's refused.
McDonald's Attitude

During discovery, McDonald's produced documents showing more than 700 claims by people burned by its coffee between 1982 and 1992. Some claims involved third-degree burns substantially similar to Liebeck's. This history documented McDonald's knowledge about the extent and nature of this hazard.


McDonald's also said during discovery that, based on a consultant's advice, it held its coffee at between 180 and 190 degrees Fahrenheit to maintain optimum taste.

Other establishments sell coffee at substantially lower temperatures than at McDonald's.
Coffee served at home is generally 135 to 140 degrees.

Damaging Testimony

McDonald's own quality assurance manager testified that a burn hazard exists with any food substance served at 140 degrees or above and that McDonald's coffee was not fit for consumption because it would burn the mouth and throat.


The quality assurance manager further testified that the company actively enforces a requirement that coffee be held in the pot at 185 degrees, plus or minus five degrees. He also testified that while burns would occur, McDonald's had no intention of reducing the "holding temperature" of its coffee.


Plaintiff's expert, a scholar in thermodynamics as applied to human skin burns, testified that liquids at 180 degrees will cause a full thickness burn to human skin in two to seven seconds.


Other testimony showed that as the temperature decreases toward 155 degrees, the extent of the burn relative to that temperature decreases exponentially. Thus, if Liebeck's spill had involved coffee at 155 degrees, the liquid would have cooled and given her time to avoid a serious burn.
McDonald's asserted that customers buy coffee on their way to work or home, intending to consume it there. However, the company's own research showed that customers intend to consume the coffee immediately while driving.


McDonald's also argued that consumers know coffee is hot and that its customers want it that way. The company admitted its customers were unaware that they could suffer third-degree burns from the coffee and that a statement on the side of the cup was not a "warning" but a "reminder" since the location of the writing would not warn customers of the hazard.
According to The Wall Street Journal
A Jury of One's Peers

The Wall Street Journal wrote (September 1, 1994), "The testimony of Mr. [Christopher] Appleton, the McDonald's executive, didn't help the company, jurors said later. He testified that McDonald's knew its coffee sometimes caused serious burns, but hadn't consulted burn experts about it. He also testified that McDonald's had decided not to warn customers about the possibility of severe burns, even though most people wouldn't think it possible. Finally, he testified that McDonald's didn't intend to change any of its coffee policies or procedures, saying, 'There are more serious dangers in restaurants.' "


The Journal quoted one juror, Jack Elliott, remarking after the trial that the case had been about such "callous disregard for the safety of the people."


The Journal story continued, "Next for the defense came P. Robert Knaff, a human-factors engineer who earned $15,000 in fees from the case and who, several jurors said later, didn't help McDonald's either. Dr. Knaff told the jury that hot-coffee burns were statistically insignificant when compared to the billion cups of coffee McDonald's sells annually. To jurors, Dr. Knaff seemed to be saying that the graphic photos they had seen of Mrs. Liebeck's burns didn't matter because they were rare. 'There was a person behind every number and I don't think the corporation was attaching enough importance to that,' says juror Betty Farnham."


At the beginning of the trial, jury foreman Jerry Goens told the Journal, he "wasn't convinced as to why I needed to be there to settle a coffee spill."


By the end of the trial, Betty Farnham told the Journal, "The facts were so overwhelmingly against the company. They were not taking care of their customers."
The Verdict

The jury awarded Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages. This amount was reduced to $160,000 because the jury found Liebeck 20 percent at fault in the spill. The jury also awarded Liebeck $2.7 million in punitive damages, which equals about two days of McDonald's coffee sales.


Post-verdict investigation found that the temperature of coffee at the local Albuquerque McDonald's had dropped to 158 degrees Fahrenheit.


The trial court subsequently reduced the punitive award to $480,000—or three times compensatory damages—even though the judge called McDonald's conduct reckless, callous and willful. Subsequent to remittitur, the parties entered a post-verdict settlement.


May'aki
11-02-04, 10:04 PM
Tankus had an interesting incident with a McDonalds product...

Tank is very allergic to ginger..and is very carefull about what she eats....one nite on duty, with her partner they called in at home to have crib..it was raining as any good traffic cops knows..a Traffic cop NEVER gets wet..*L*..so..her and Kev (partner) decided to go to macca's for desert... T ordered a Caramel Delight..muffin topped with soft serve and caramel..three quarters of the way thru , when all the icecream and topping was gone and just the muffin was left, T took a bite and got the familiar but horrifying taste of ginger... she went to the counter asked the girl if she could tell her what was in the muffin to be told they had no idea....asked for the manager who also had no idea..told her she could find out in 10 mins to which Tank replied .. "ill be dead in 10 mins"...

... she started to feel her tounge swell..said to her partner.."get me to the hospital.." The nearest one with ER was 30 mins away....she wasnt going to make it, so she told Kev to bring her home..we lived 5 mins from macca's..she managed to call me and say "ive eaten ginger im coming home.." I waited..saw Tanks patrol car fly past the house with lights and sirens going...saw it back up and turn into our drive..I ran out to the car..T was unconcious, very labored breathing and was begining to go into a seizure.. she had managed to get her adrenalin out but not administer it..I administered it..she was still having difficulty breathing..I told Kev to call an ambulance..instead of using the cell phone..he put it over the Police radio....I kept working on Tank and as im admistering another shot i hear sirens in the distance.

... all of a sudden i have every patrol car in the district on my front lawn from the afternoon shift...!!! from rookie constables right thru to a superintendant...!! But no ambulance....

I continue to keep her breathing..there are now me, Kev, Tank and 3 other cops in the vehicle... 30 others milling around..the street is lit up like a christmas tree!..FINALLY after 25 mins the ambulance arrives...(thats a whole nother story!!)..the ambo instructs the cops to take her out of the vehicle.. to do this they have to remove her duty belt and gun....even in the state she was in...she put up a fight when she realised they were trying to get her gun...popped not only the ambo but her partner and other cop and me!!..

...anyways long story short..she gets to the hospital..is treated with all the right drugs...comes to..spends the nite in the hopsital and the next 6 weeks of work..had a residule prob with her heart... we go back to macca's a few days later told them what happened..the managers face had a look of sheer terror on her face.... u see it is against the law here not to have ingredients list on hand when selling food.... if T had of wanted to she could of taken them to the cleaners!! ..we didnt...and they didnt even offer her a free burger!!...but T now proudly wears a Tshirt with the Macca's logo on it with the words Mc**** written underneath.... :D

Samuel
11-02-04, 10:50 PM
IMO, she MIGHT have had a case If that was the very first time she had ever ordered coffee at that particular MD's and it was substantially hotter than every other cup of coffee she had EVER ordered Anywhere or if the coffee was so hot that it melted right through the cup. I'm not very sympathetic because:

1. Coffee, as a general rule, is served H O T. I doubt that's the first time she's ever imbibed anything H O T. I doubt that's the first time she's ever spilled anything H O T on herself or accidentally came into contact with any H O T liquid.

2. There was no mention made of any defects in the packaging of the coffee, she apparently Spilled It On Herself. Let's use some common sense - have your grandson do it for you (and let it spill on Him)! :D


Reminds me of that old joke:
Clueless: Hey Mr Attorney, every time I drink coffee, I get a sharp pain in my eye, do you think I should sue?
Attorney: Sue! Sue! I can get you a boat load of money!
Clueless: Hey Doc, every time I drink coffee, I get a sharp pain in my eye. Could I be going blind?
Doctor after watching Clueless drink coffee: You Could try taking the spoon out before you drink...


Orleander
11-03-04, 05:18 AM
..1. Coffee, as a general rule, is served H O T. I doubt that's the first time she's ever imbibed anything H O T. I doubt that's the first time she's ever spilled anything H O T on herself or accidentally came into contact with any H O T liquid......

yes, I've spilled coffee before, but I never lost skin, had to be hospitalized, and had surgery.
And since when is McDonalds worried about optimum taste? :rolleyes:

Samuel
11-03-04, 11:58 AM
Are you suggesting that it would be ok for someone to sue McDonald's simply because he/she doesn't like their food or the establishment/franchise itself? I don't see where personal choice of restaurant or individual food preferences/taste factored into this case/discussion...

I've cut myself plenty of times with different types of edged weapons (i.e. knives); sometimes performing less than intelligent cutting tasks (e.g. accidentally cutting deep into my leg while sitting on my bed and cutting a box on my lap while talking on a landline/corded phone). Some were sharper than others. So should I sue that I got cut (read: Cut Myself) with a knife that was "too sharp"? No. Because 1. knives are Supposed to be S H A R P (and I know this) and 2. I did it to myself, sometimes while I was doing something that hindsight revealed was dumb. :rolleyes:

Dayna36
11-03-04, 03:19 PM
Are you suggesting that it would be ok for someone to sue McDonald's simply because he/she doesn't like their food or the establishment/franchise itself? I don't see where personal choice of restaurant or individual food preferences/taste factored into this case/discussion...


Is who suggesting? I didn't read any posts which suggest that. :confused:
This morning I made myself pot of coffee, poured myself a cup and then immediately stood over the sink and poured some on my hand and wrist. It smarted a little bit for a couple of seconds but I was not left with a red mark much less third degree burns. The coffee was just the right temperature to drink and it stayed hot enough for the duration of drinking.

oscarmitre
11-03-04, 03:55 PM
Are you suggesting that it would be ok for someone to sue McDonald's simply because he/she doesn't like their food or the establishment/franchise itself? I don't see where personal choice of restaurant or individual food preferences/taste factored into this case/discussion...

Are you saying that individuals should lose the right to sue?

retdetsgt
11-03-04, 05:06 PM
What I find tiresome is that I bet she ended up with less than 50% of the settlement. Her lawyer, who suffered zero physical discomfort got the majority of it.

Our society has become one of victims. We're no longer responsible for own actions anymore. Everything is always somebody else's fault. Even if we're an *******, we can blame our parents......

oscarmitre
11-03-04, 06:03 PM
If it was a contingency fee arrangement the lawyer would have received fees from the settlement I think. The good thing about contingency fees is that - depending on how it's agreed of course - someone who may not have the money to get legal representation can do so. I think that's a good thing although I concede that abuses are possible (as they are with anything).

On the question of victims, it's a question of balance. If there's a reduced or even no right to sue for negligence it would reduce the care that we show to each other in society I think. In my country,in response to pressure from insurance companies who tried to blame their poor investment decisions on the aftermath of September 11th,some state governments limited tort law payouts and made it more difficult to pursue some matters. I think that was too much government interference with private rights.

Orleander
11-03-04, 07:09 PM
OK, my comments are in bold since I don't know how to post multiple quotes. :o

[QUOTE=Dayna36] ...A vascular surgeon determined that Liebeck suffered full thickness burns (or third-degree burns) over 6 percent of her body. Liebeck suffered burns on her inner thighs, perineum, buttocks, and genital and groin areas.

Now just imagine that happening to you

She was hospitalized for eight days, during which time she underwent skin grafting and debridement treatments (the surgical removal of tissue). Liebeck sought to settle her claim for $20,000, but McDonald's refused.

I think the $20,000 would have just covered the cost of surgery, 8 days in the hospital, follow up care, and rehabilitation. Doesn't seem greedy to me.

During discovery, McDonald's produced documents showing more than 700 claims by people burned by its coffee between 1982 and 1992.

That's more than 1 person a week for 10 years.

McDonald's own quality assurance manager testified that a burn hazard exists with any food substance served at 140 degrees or above and that McDonald's coffee was not fit for consumption because it would burn the mouth and throat.

I think that says it all. How would it be any different than serving contaminated food and people getting food poisoning?....[QUOTE]

Dayna36
11-03-04, 08:44 PM
Good points Orleander and Oscar. I am pleased that someone actually read the article. It is refreshing to hear carefully considered thought put into your responses and not just predictable, stock replies that seem all to common to many of the arguments put forward here.

mcsap
11-03-04, 09:24 PM
Does ANYONE expect coffee to be served anything less than HOT ? No !!!

Does ANYONE who orders a cup of coffee just start drinking it down like icewater on a hot day ? No !!!! You ALWYS see people sipping it at first because they KNOW IT IS HOT. I can'r count the number of times I burned my tongue/mouth from hot coffee.

acreature
11-03-04, 09:27 PM
Liebeck placed the cup between her knees and attempted to remove the plastic lid from the cup. As Liebeck removed the lid, the entire contents of the cup spilled into her lap.

Now, come on! I've done it... Put a flimsy cup between my legs, to have it squish and pour out!

And as it has been said, Coffee is served HOT.

BTW, yes, I read the whole thing ;)

oscarmitre
11-03-04, 09:44 PM
Define "hot" :D

Dayna36
11-03-04, 10:24 PM
It's all yours Oscar. I give up. :rolleyes:

oscarmitre
11-03-04, 11:15 PM
LOL Dayna - the lads are just being mischievous :D

I mean even a quick reading of the facts shows up phrases like "callous disregard". Anyway the jury found for the plaintiff, so good luck to her.

Dayna36
11-03-04, 11:17 PM
LOL Dayna - the lads are just being mischievous :D

I mean even a quick reading of the facts shows up phrases like "callous disregard". Anyway the jury found for the plaintiff, so good luck to her.
I'll try to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Wifeofadeputy
11-03-04, 11:26 PM
I can understand this case... to an extent. McD's had numerous complaints prior to this one... and their coffee WAS too hot.

But there is something to be said about personal accountability as well. Sadly the media spin on this particular case sparked a whole slew of 'frivolous' lawsuits. Such as the guy who attempted to sue (I think) Nabisco, because Oreo cookies made him fat.

Strangely enough, I have this sudden craving for a cup of coffee...

DolphinTattoos
11-03-04, 11:34 PM
Stella link (http://www.atlanet.org/ConsumerMediaResources/Tier3/press_room/FACTS/frivolous/McdonaldsCoffeecase.aspx)

McDonald's also said during discovery that, based on a consultant's advice, it held its coffee at between 180 and 190 degrees Fahrenheit to maintain optimum taste.

Other establishments sell coffee at substantially lower temperatures than at McDonald's.
Coffee served at home is generally 135 to 140 degrees.

Damaging Testimony

McDonald's own quality assurance manager testified that a burn hazard exists with any food substance served at 140 degrees or above and that McDonald's coffee was not fit for consumption because it would burn the mouth and throat.


The quality assurance manager further testified that the company actively enforces a requirement that coffee be held in the pot at 185 degrees, plus or minus five degrees. He also testified that while burns would occur, McDonald's had no intention of reducing the "holding temperature" of its coffee.

**********************************

Post-verdict investigation found that the temperature of coffee at the local Albuquerque McDonald's had dropped to 158 degrees Fahrenheit.


The trial court subsequently reduced the punitive award to $480,000—or three times compensatory damages—even though the judge called McDonald's conduct reckless, callous and willful. Subsequent to remittitur, the parties entered a post-verdict settlement.


Ok, if there was no harm in serving the coffee at 180 degrees, why did they drop it down to 158 after they lost the case?


I think there is a difference between "hot" and "scalding".
Hot coffee is perfectly ok, but scalding coffee is dangerous, and no one I know prefers scalding coffee.

Dayna36
11-03-04, 11:45 PM
Ok, if there was no harm in serving the coffee at 180 degrees, why did they drop it down to 158 after they lost the case?


Good point Dolphin.

May'aki
11-04-04, 12:22 AM
Ok, if there was no harm in serving the coffee at 180 degrees, why did they drop it down to 158 after they lost the case?



Same reason McDs in Forrestfield got an ingrediants list in for all their products after Tankus nearly died??

oscarmitre
11-04-04, 01:09 AM
Also the company refused to settle for a piddling $20,000. Why not? I would have thought that a responsible defence attorney would always advise a commercial settlement. Perhaps they were frightened of the floodgates being opened? And the arrogance of the company is astounding.

Anyway next time I'm at McDonald's I'll silently thank Stella and know I'm getting hot and not scalding (thanks Dolphin) coffee ;)

Samuel
11-04-04, 03:26 AM
Dayna, I read the article. I just have a different opinion about the incident than you and some of the others. PERIOD.

"It is refreshing to hear carefully considered thought put into your responses and not just predictable, stock replies that seem all to common to many of the arguments put forward here." Oh so everyone who agrees with you is a genius and everyone else is stupid huh? Maybe you should put warning notices at the end of your posts to let everyone know that all who reply in agreement will be your very "bestest" friends and all who disagree will be scorned and belittled.

:rolleyes:


Are you saying that individuals should lose the right to sue?

Oscar, IMO, the US has The Most litigious society anywhere on the planet. It would also not surprise me if LA leads the nation. If we had a system, IIRC like Europe, where the loser pays, we would probably have fewer BS lawsuits. As it is, there are WAY TOO MANY people here in the US who look for the easy way out, demand handouts, refuse to take responsibility for their own actions, want something for nothing, file suits just for money, lie, cheat, and steal, etc Ad Nauseam.

I'm saying that not EVERYONE Should have the Right to sue AND that there are many circumstances (especially related to criminal or stupid activities) where suits should be laughed at and thrown out of court.

Unfortunately, we in the US are now living in an era where a person's word means very little, good faith is punished rather than rewarded, common sense is in very short supply, and greed is more important than the welfare of our species and the planet.

You know things are bad when BOXING GLOVES have a 50+ word warning label on them that starts off reading (paraphrased) - "WARNING: Boxing is a Contact Sport. The use of this equipment in no way guarantees the user from suffering any type of injury..."

I'm done with this thread. Bash away... :rolleyes:

oscarmitre
11-04-04, 03:58 AM
Bash? No way. A straightforward post deserves a straightforward response.

The most litigious society? Perhaps. And I reckon it's a fair point that contingency arrangements (such as I mentioned earlier) might in fact generate law suits where they wouldn't ordinarily have been. It's not unsual now in my country to read the newspaper and see invitations from law firms (some from out of my state and some even international) for alleged victims to join class actions for something or other. But perhaps that's not too big a price to pay for Joe or Josephine Blow to gain access to justice.

Yes, some suits are vexatious and should be treated as such. I don't know what filter mechanisms exist in your jurisdiction but I would imagine that the principle of the law not dealing with small items applies?

On the warning label on the boxing gloves - I love it :D

I want to see a warning label on all handguns "Warning: this will make a loud noise and frighten the crap out of you when you squeeze just here...." and on cars "Warning: driving at high speed will frighten the crap out of you - and others".

Point taken.

Dayna36
11-04-04, 11:03 AM
Dayna, I read the article. I just have a different opinion about the incident than you and some of the others. PERIOD.

.[QUOTE]




[QUOTE]
Oscar, IMO, the US has The Most litigious society anywhere on the planet. It would also not surprise me if LA leads the nation. If we had a system, IIRC like Europe, where the loser pays, we would probably have fewer BS lawsuits. As it is, there are WAY TOO MANY people here in the US who look for the easy way out, demand handouts, refuse to take responsibility for their own actions, want something for nothing, file suits just for money, lie, cheat, and steal, etc Ad Nauseam.


This was not a B.S. lawsuit. The woman suffered third degree burns for cripes sakes! She offered to settle for $20,000 which was more than fair and McD's turned her down. She was not asking for something for nothing, filing suits just for money, she did not lie or cheat. Just because some people do this does not mean that Stella should not have had the right to seek damages for her injury. What you are ranting about has nothing to do with her particular case.

Wifeofadeputy
11-04-04, 11:49 AM
This was not a B.S. lawsuit. The woman suffered third degree burns for cripes sakes! She offered to settle for $20,000 which was more than fair and McD's turned her down. She was not asking for something for nothing, filing suits just for money, she did not lie or cheat. Just because some people do this does not mean that Stella should not have had the right to seek damages for her injury. What you are ranting about has nothing to do with her particular case.

In a way it does Dayna. Even if Stellas case is reasonable... it did spark thousands of other lawsuits that were anything BUT reasonable... because 'personal accountability' is more difficult than getting rich quick.

Dayna36
11-04-04, 12:23 PM
In a way it does Dayna. Even if Stellas case is reasonable... it did spark thousands of other lawsuits that were anything BUT reasonable... because 'personal accountability' is more difficult than getting rich quick.
True, but still her case was reasonable and I started this thread because many people have the mistaken notion that Stella suffered a minor scalding from spilling her coffee and then filed a frivolous lawsuit. It's not fair to place blame Stella, blame McDonalds for being irresponsible in the first place. They could have given her $20,000 and avoided all the publicity but they were too greedy. Not everyone sues to get rich quick.