For many Americans, the famous McDonald’s coffee case has become emblematic of the frivolous lawsuits that clog our courts and stall our justice system. Or is that exactly what Big Corporate America, Insurance Companies, and McDonald’s wants us to think?
Enter intrepid filmmaker Susan Saladoff. Using the now-infamous legal battle over a spilled cup of coffee as a springboard into investigating our civil-justice system, Saladoff exposes the way corporations have spent millions distorting this case to promote tort reform. Her film, Hot Coffee, is entered as a documentary in the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.
Big business has brewed an insidious concoction of manipulation and lies to protect its interests, and media lapdogs have stirred the cup. Following four people whose lives have been devastated by their inability to access the courts, this searing documentary unearths the sad truth that most of our beliefs about the civil-justice system have been shaped or bought by corporate America. Informative, entertaining, and a stirring call to action, Hot Coffee will make your blood boil.
And speaking about the McDonald’s case, here’s what the talk show pundits and columnists neglected to mention…
79 year old Stella Liebeck suffered third degree burns on her groin and inner thighs while trying to add sugar to her coffee at a McDonalds drive through. Third degree burns are the most serious kind of burn.
McDonalds knew it had a problem. There were at least 700 previous cases of scalding coffee incidents at McDonalds before Liebeck’s case. McDonalds had settled many claim before but refused Liebeck’s request for $20,000 compensation, forcing the case into court.
Lawyers found that McDonalds makes its coffee 30-50 degrees hotter than other restaurants, about 190 degrees. Doctors testified that it only takes 2-7 seconds to cause a third degree burn at 190 degrees. McDonalds knew its coffee was exceptionally hot but testified that they had never consulted with burn specialist.
The Shriner Burn Institute had previously warned McDonalds not to serve coffee above 130 degrees. And so the jury came back with a decision- $160,000 for compensatory damages. But because McDonalds was guilty of “willful, reckless, malicious or wanton conduct” punitive damages were also applied. The jury set the award at $2.7 million.
The judge then reduced the fine to less than half a million. Ms. Liebeck then settled with McDonalds for a sum reported to be much less than a half million dollars. McDonald’s coffee is now sold at the same temperature as most other restaurants.
In our opinion, and based upon the facts, the system works and it works very well.