Just about everyone knows or has heard about the infamous McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit. What they do not know are the “real” facts about the case.
“I can say without any reservations that the McDonald’s hot coffee case that involved burns to Stella Leibeck was not frivolous. Any time a victim suffers third degree burns the way she did, and takes over a year to recover from catastrophic injuries like that, the case is not frivolous, it was not inconsequential nor should it be the butt of tasteless jokes from people that do not know the details of the case,” stated Robert W. Lee, a personal injury attorney of Lee, Gober & Reyna in Austin, Texas.
To start with, McDonald’s knew they were serving coffee hot enough to burn the skin off a person. Stella Liebeck was not the only person to have suffered severe burns. Hundreds of other customers had suffered mild to severe burns from hot coffee prior to Ms. Liebeck’s incident. McDonalds was aware of those incidents because they had paid money to settle many of their claims. Ms. Liebeck’s burns peeled the skin off her legs just in the ankle area and her inner thighs.
The pain was excruciating, and she needed extensive medical care, thus incurring enormous medical costs. Anyone who has a chance to see the pictures of her injuries (just Google Stella Liebeck pictures) will never again laugh when they think about this case. While the concept of being burnt by hot coffee may seem funny, the third degree, deep and ugly burns that took over a year to heal were not.
“I don’t often suggest that someone watch a video or movie, but in this instance, I strongly recommend you take the time to watch the ‘true’ story about this case in the HBO documentary “Hot Coffee”. The movie premieres on HBO on June 27, 2011. See this website – http://hotcoffeethemovie.com/?tr=y&auid=8502273 Its message is loud and clear; that this personal injury case (along with the others in the short documentary) are not taken to court for the ‘fun’ of it. They are taken to a jury, because the victim has suffered untold agony, injury and loss and the party that caused the injuries has refused to accept full responsibility. While the website is a preview of the documentary, you should be able to find the episode online at HBO.com,” said Lee.
The Stella Liebeck case was wrongly labeled as a frivolous to make the public think lawyers take silly cases to court for no other reason than because they can. Many also think the lawyer is only motivated by the potential to make big bucks by going to court. That is not the reason these cases go to trial. Cases like Ms. Leibecks go to court because the victim deserves compensation for their pain, suffering, medical bills, lost wages, disfigurement, impairment, and the defendant refuses to accept full responsibility for their carelessness.
“Remember, the ‘jury’ in this case made the determination that McDonald’s knowingly served coffee hot enough to burn skin off someone, if it was spilled on them. The key word here is ‘knowingly’ and they did so even in spite of clear evidence that other customers had been burned,” Lee explained.
As a result of Ms. Leibeck’s lawsuit, McDonald’s lowered the temperature of their coffee to a safe level. They still serve it plenty hot, just not dangerously hot. This has prevented others from suffering similar horrible burn injuries like Ms. Leibeck. Making products safe is one of the greatest things a lawsuit can accomplish. Lawsuits have forced reluctant companies to make their products safe for consumers or stop selling them if they can’t make them safe.
Examples of products made safer, or taken off the market, as the result of lawsuits include: baby cribs, child toys, lead paint, asbestos, 4-wheeler ATVs, automobiles (air bags, seatbelts, roof strength, fuel systems), tires, the Ford Pinto, cigarettes, cigarette lighters, medications, medication bottles, flammable pajamas, child car seats, trampolines, swimming pools, spas & hot tubs, peanut butter, airplanes, electric fans, electric outlets, fireworks, Christmas tree lights, etc. The list goes on and on.
Was justice truly served in the McDonald’s hot coffee case? “I would say it was. Stella Leibeck suffered horribly, and not once, but twice; once, as a victim of scalding hot coffee that caused third degree burns, and for the second time, when people treated her pain and agony as something funny. It was anything but funny, and anything but frivolous,” Lee commented.
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