McFacts about the McDonalds Coffee Lawsuit
Everyone knows what you're talking about when you mention "the McDonald's lawsuit." Even though this case was decided in August of 1994, for many Americans it continues to represent the "problem" with our civil justice system.
The business community and insurance industry have done much to perpetuate this case. They don't want us to forget it. They know it helps them convince politicians that "tort reform" and other restrictions on juries is needed. And worse, they know it poisons the minds of citizens who sit on juries.
Unfortunately, not all the facts have been communicated - facts that put the case and the monetary award to the 81-year old plaintiff in a significantly different light.
According to the Wall Street journal, McDonald's callousness was the issue and even jurors who thought the case was just a tempest in a coffee pot were overwhelmed by the evidence against the Corporation.
The facts of the case, which caused a jury of six men and six women to find McDonald's coffee was unreasonably dangerous and had caused enough human misery and suffering that no one should be made to suffer exposure to such excessively hot coffee again, will shock and amaze you:
McFact No. 1: For years, McDonald's had known they had a problem with the way they make their coffee - that their coffee was served much hotter (at least 20 degrees more so) than at other restaurants.
McFact No. 2: McDonald's knew its coffee sometimes caused serious injuries - more than 700 incidents of scalding coffee burns in the past decade have been settled by the Corporation - and yet they never so much as consulted a burn expert regarding the issue.
McFact No. 3: The woman involved in this infamous case suffered very serious injuries - third degree burns on her groin, thighs and buttocks that required skin grafts and a seven-day hospital stay.
McFact No. 4: The woman, an 81-year old former department store clerk who had never before filed suit against anyone, said she wouldn't have brought the lawsuit against McDonald's had the Corporation not dismissed her request for compensation for medical bills.
McFact No. 5: A McDonald's quality assurance manager testified in the case that the Corporation was aware of the risk of serving dangerously hot coffee and had no plans to either turn down the heat or to post warning about the possibility of severe burns, even though most customers wouldn't think it was possible.
McFact No. 6: After careful deliberation, the jury found McDonald's was liable because the facts were overwhelmingly against the company. When it came to the punitive damages, the jury found that McDonald's had engaged in willful, reckless, malicious, or wanton conduct, and rendered a punitive damage award of 2.7 million dollars. (The equivalent of just two days of coffee sales, McDonalds Corporation generates revenues in excess of 1.3 million dollars daily from the sale of its coffee, selling 1 billion cups each year.)
McFact No. 7: On appeal, a judge lowered the award to $480,000, a fact not widely publicized in the media.
McFact No. 8: A report in Liability Week, September 29, 1997, indicated that Kathleen Gilliam, 73, suffered first degree burns when a cup of coffee spilled onto her lap. Reports also indicate that McDonald's consistently keeps its coffee at 185 degrees, still approximately 20 degrees hotter than at other restaurants. Third degree burns occur at this temperature in just two to seven seconds, requiring skin grafting, debridement and whirlpool treatments that cost tens of thousands of dollars and result in permanent disfigurement, extreme pain and disability to the victims for many months, and in some cases, years.
The most important message this case has for you, the consumer, is to be aware of the potential danger posed by your early morning pick-me-up. Take extra care to make sure children do not come into contact with scalding liquid, and always look to the facts before rendering your decision about any publicized case.
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