So, you think you know the story about the woman who went to McDonalds for coffee, spilled it on herself and sued, eh? Sure, you heard about it, maybe you even saw the parody on an episode of Seinfeld, but I’ll bet you a cup of coffee that you have no idea of the whole story.
Indeed, I’ll bet you didn’t know that:
- That coffee wasn’t just hot, it was scalding. McDonalds mandated temperature spec for its coffee at that time was between 180 and 190 degrees, Fahrenheit.
- Ms. Liebeck suffered almost immediate third-degree burns on her thighs and buttocks, which required multiple skin grafts to correct.
- Before this incident, McDonalds had been cited for over 700 other separate incidents of hot coffee burning other customers.
- Originally, Ms. Liebeck had only asked McDonalds to cover the costs of her corrective surgery. McDonalds answered with an offered payment of $800.
Stella Liebeck’s story is the first of four relating to the issue of tort reform and corporate manipulation of the civil justice system in Susan Saladoff’s documentary, “Hot Coffee.” In addition, Ms. Saladoff deals with:
- Colin Gourley, a 16-year-old born with severe brain injury resulting from medical malpractice during the delivery of him and his twin brother. Adding insult to injury, Nebraska’s jury cap legislation reduced the $5.65 million jury award to $1.25 million, requiring the Gourley family to go on Medicaid to care for their son.
- Oliver Diaz, a judge on Mississippi’s supreme court, who was targeted by Karl Rove and a well-financed campaign to discredit Diaz in his run for reelection to his seat on the court … because Diaz is opposed to tort reform.
- Jamie Leigh Jones, a KBR / Halliburton employee who, when she was sent to Iraq, was billeted in a mostly male dormitory, rather than quarters for women, and subsequently drugged and raped. When she attempted to gain justice, she learned that she had signed her rights to a jury trial away to private arbitration, the arbitrator to be assigned by Halliburton.
So you think this can’t happen to you? If you have a credit card or own a cell phone, it already HAS … as it comes to private arbitration. Check the fine print on your contract (if you didn’t throw it away as most people do) and note: if you have a problem serious to require judicial action, you are officially out of luck.
That said, you might be interested in seeing Susan Saladoff’s “Hot Coffee.” It’s currently showing on HBO … though you might want something stronger than coffee to drink as you watch it.