Remember all the talk-show ridicule of the woman who sued McDonald’s and won big bucks for coffee that was too hot? Well, it turns out she was sitting still, she was badly burned, and McDonald’s had failed to correct the scalding temperature in spite of 700 complaints.
Now attorney Susan Saladoff, who believes that the tort-reform posse was defining the tone of the discussion, has made a movie countering the frivolous-lawsuits-run-amok mantra. She argues persuasively that lawsuits like the one in Hot Coffee protect the little guy from corporations run amok.
A review at American Prospect says, “no matter how many times the suit was used in Jay Leno monologues there was nothing funny about it. Liebeck [the complainant] was not careless, but spilled the coffee when she, as a passenger in a parked car, took the lid off the cup. The spill did not cause a trivial injury, but severe burns that required multiple operations and skin grafts to treat. McDonald’s, which served its coffee at 180 degrees [your home coffee maker is at 135 degrees], had received more than 700 complaints from customers, constituting a clear warning, but it nonetheless required its franchises to serve it at that temperature without warning customers.”
Stella Liebeck sued only after the medical bills overwhelmed her. Little of the settlement was left her after costs, and she didn’t live long to enjoy it.
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