Insurance Companies and their “Tort Deform”
Their Actions Should be a McCrime
Do you remember the infamous McDonald’s coffee case in 1992? Many people think that they know the story but the truth is that what you know or remember is probably wrong. Insurance companies are thrilled that what you know or think you know is wrong because it means that their revision of the story has stuck with you.
One of the most commonly known stories that have been spun by insurance companies to try to justify “Tort Reform” (a.k.a. Tort Deform) is the case of Ms. Stella Liebeck who sustained third degree burn injuries from scalding hot coffee. Many people believe that Stella Liebeck was driving through the McDonald’s drive through to get her morning coffee. Then, as she was driving the lid came open and spilled all over her. She then received millions of dollars because the jury wanted to punish McDonald’s for her “minimal injuries”. That spin on the infamous McDonald’s Coffee Cup case is false and insurance companies are banking on your believing the myth they created.
Here are the real facts of the case. Between 1982 and 1992, McDonalds had a reported 700 burn related injuries due to their coffee being served between 180 and 185° Fahrenheit, which they knew to be too hot for consumption. Before this lawsuit, more than 700 people made complaints to McDonalds for scalding coffee burns in the previous ten years. Despite these numerous complaints, McDonald’s failed to consult a burn expert and failed to lower the temperature of its coffee.
Ms. Liebeck, who was 79 years old at the time, was a passenger in a parked car getting her breakfast at the McDonald’s drive through. The driver of the car pulled over to allow her to take off the lid and add cream and sugar to the cup. There was no cup holder in the car so Ms. Liebeck held the coffee in between her legs. The slick Styrofoam cup flipped backwards dumping scalding liquid into her lap and saturated the cotton sweat-suit she was wearing – which in turn clung to her legs holding the hot liquid against her skin. Ms. Liebeck went to the emergency room and was hospitalized for 7 days with third degree burns over her genital, thigh and upper leg. She received surgery (skin grafts) and had to stay home for 3 weeks to heal. She lost 30 pounds and her family thought she wasn’t going to make it.
As for the money she was awarded, many think it was millions of dollars. But that is not true. She was awarded $200,000 in compensatory damages which was reduced to $160,000 because the jury found her 20% at fault. She was awarded $2.7 million in punitive damages, but the judge later reduced that to $480,000.
Before filing the lawsuit, Ms. Liebeck’s family attempted to settle with McDonald’s for only her out-of-pocket expenses of a little more than $2,000. McDonald’s would not budge past $800.
What does this mean for you, the consumer? Third degree burns occur at 185 degrees in just 2 – 5 seconds. They can require skin grafting and other expensive medical treatments that can exceed tens of thousands of dollars and inflict severe prolonged pain and permanent disability.
Be aware of the potential danger of scalding liquids when at home or elsewhere. Make sure that children don’t have access to scalding liquids. Be aware that hot water is particularly harmful for young children because their skin is thinner than an adult’s. A child will suffer a severe burn if exposed to 140-degree water for just three seconds. Be aware that elderly people are more vulnerable as well due to sensitive skin and slower reaction times.
Make sure that you know all the facts before buying into the sensational stories permeating our culture. Don’t let insurance company propaganda rob you of your rights to use our civil justice system to ensure your family’s safety.
The York Law Corporation is experienced in personal injury law, including burn injuries. We zealously represent our clients against insurance companies to prevent manipulation and strive to achieve excellent results either in court or by settlement. We also know that insurance companies are notorious for the three D’s: delay, deny, and don’t pay. We consider it a vital part of our practice to ensure that irresponsible companies take responsibility for any negligent or harmful action.
York Law Corporation