Sunday, March 16, 2008

The True Medonalds Coffee Verdict

The Real Stella Case, Mcdonald's coffee to Hot....

May it please the court: We know quite well that not all of the cases we present will turn out to be frivolous abuse of the American Justice System. Many of these cases indeed involve real issues, real injuries, and deserve real compensation. And some don't. That's why we stress that you should read the cases before you judge.

How about, for instance, Stella herself? Much of the coverage about Stella Liebeck has been grossly unfair. When you have a more complete summary of the facts, you might change your mind about her. Or maybe not -- that's up to you. Did you know the following aspects of the Stella vs. McDonald's case?

* Stella was not driving when she pulled the lid off her scalding McDonald's coffee. Her grandson was driving the car, and he had pulled over to stop so she could add cream and sugar to the cup.
* Stella was burned badly (some sources say six percent of her skin was burned, other sources say 16 percent was) and needed two years of treatment and rehabilitation, including skin grafts. McDonald's refused an offer to settle with her for $20,000 in medical costs.
* McDonald's quality control managers specified that its coffee should be served at 180-190 degrees Fahrenheit. Liquids at that temperature can cause third-degree burns in 2-7 seconds. Such burns require skin grafting, debridement and whirlpool treatments to heal, and the resulting scarring is typically permanent.
* From 1982 to 1992, McDonald's coffee burned more than 700 people, usually slightly but sometimes seriously, resulting in some number of other claims and lawsuits.
* Witnesses for McDonald's admitted in court that consumers are unaware of the extent of the risk of serious burns from spilled coffee served at McDonald's required temperature, admitted that it did not warn customers of this risk, could offer no explanation as to why it did not, and testified that it did not intend to turn down the heat even though it admitted that its coffee is "not fit for consumption" when sold because it is too hot.
* While Stella was awarded $200,000 in compensatory damages, this amount was reduced by 20 percent (to $160,000) because the jury found her 20 percent at fault. Where did the rest of the $2.9 million figure in? She was awarded $2.7 million in punitive damages -- but the judge later reduced that amount to $480,000, or three times the "actual" damages that were awarded.

* The resulting $640,000 isn't the end either. Liebeck and McDonald's entered into secret settlement negotiations rather than go to appeal. The amount of the settlement is not known -- it's secret!
* The plaintiffs were apparently able to document 700 cases of burns from McDonald's coffee over 10 years, or 70 burns per year. But that doesn't take into account how many cups are sold without incident. A McDonald's consultant pointed out the 700 cases in 10 years represents just 1 injury per 24 million cups sold! For every injury, no matter how severe, 23,999,999 people managed to drink their coffee without any injury whatever. Isn't that proof that the coffee is not "unreasonably dangerous"?
* Even in the eyes of an obviously sympathetic jury, Stella was judged to be 20 percent at fault -- she did, after all, spill the coffee into her lap all by herself. The car was stopped, so she presumably was not bumped to cause the spill. Indeed she chose to hold the coffee cup between her knees instead of any number of safer locations as she opened it. Should she have taken more responsibility for her own actions?

* Here's the Kicker: Coffee is supposed to be served in the range of 185 degrees! The National Coffee Association recommends coffee be brewed at "between 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal extraction" and drunk "immediately". If not drunk immediately, it should be "maintained at 180-185 degrees Fahrenheit." (Source: NCAUSA.) Exactly what, then, did McDonald's do wrong? Did it exhibit "willful, wanton, reckless or malicious conduct" -- the standard in New Mexico for awarding punitive damages?

The Court of Public Opinion has also issued its verdict: Stella has become an American icon. Rightly or wrongly, she is a symbol of the American Tort system gone wrong, and most have heard of her case -- and have an opinion on it. For more than 10 years, the term "Stella Award" has been used to refer to any lawsuit that sounds outrageous. Because of this huge name recognition, we chose to continue the name that has captured the public's attention like no other: "Stella Awards". But rather than use fabricated stories to illustrate a real problem, our goal is to legitimize the "Stella Awards" name by reporting real case stories (in the This is True tradition) to get the point across much more powerfully.


Not so True Stella Awards./ These are false rumors

May it please the court: Many stories are going around the 'net saying they are "The Stella Awards". Many of these stories are false, made-up, or (sometimes) true stories with false elements added to them. It makes no sense to use false examples of real problems when there are so many true examples that illustrate the actual problem.

The sad part: despite these stories having been debunked years ago, they not only still circulate, but many reporters, columnists and radio "personalities" still talk about them as if they were true, which says a lot about their professionalism. In many outrageous cases, these lazy "news" people will even link to this site as the source of these silly lies! What a ridiculous lack of standards they have!

The most-common e-mail example is the following, which the clerk has marked "Exhibit A". We've received many, many copies of it over the last few years, and no doubt you have too. You'll see what we mean by "bogus".

Claimed Case

Kathleen Robertson of Austin, Texas, was awarded $780,000 by a jury after breaking her ankle tripping over a toddler who was running amuck inside a furniture store. The owners of the store were understandably surprised at the verdict, considering the misbehaving tyke was Ms. Robertson's son. Fabricated.
Carl Truman, 19, of Los Angeles won $74,000 and medical expenses when his neighbor ran his hand over with a Honda Accord. Mr. Truman apparently didn't notice someone was at the wheel of the car whose hubcap he was trying to steal. Fabricated.
Terrence Dickson of Bristol, Penn., was exiting a house he finished robbing by way of the garage. He was not able to get the garage door to go up because the automatic door opener was malfunctioning. He couldn't re-enter the house because the door connecting the house and garage locked when he pulled it shut. The family was on vacation, so Mr. Dickson found himself locked in the garage for eight days. He subsisted on a case of Pepsi he found, and a large bag of dry dog food. Dickson sued the homeowner's insurance claiming the situation caused him undue mental anguish. The jury agreed to the tune of half a million dollars and change. Fabricated.
Jerry Williams of Little Rock, Arkansas, was awarded $14,500 and medical expenses after being bitten on the buttocks by his next door neighbor's beagle. The beagle was on a chain in its owner's fenced-in yard, as was Mr. Williams. The award was less than sought after because the jury felt the dog may have been provoked by Mr. Williams who, at the time, was shooting it repeatedly with a pellet gun. Fabricated.
A Philadelphia restaurant was ordered to pay Amber Carson of Lancaster, Pennsylvania $113,500 after she slipped on a spilled soft drink and broke her coccyx. The beverage was on the floor because Ms. Carson threw it at her boyfriend 30 seconds earlier during an argument. Fabricated.
Kara Walton of Claymont, Delaware, successfully sued the owner of a nightclub in a neighboring city when she fell from the bathroom window to the floor and knocked out her two front teeth. This occurred while Ms. Walton was trying to sneak through the window in the ladies room to avoid paying the $3.50 cover charge. She was awarded $12,000 and dental expenses. Fabricated.
The "winner" every year: In November, Mr. Grazinski purchased a brand new 32 foot Winnebago motor home. On his first trip home, having joined the freeway, he set the cruise control at 70 mph and calmly left the drivers seat to go into the back and make himself a cup of coffee. Not surprisingly, the Winnie left the freeway, crashed and overturned. Mr. Grazinski sued Winnebago for not advising him in the handbook that he could not actually do this. He was awarded $1,750,000 plus a new Winnebago. Fabricated.
And just so you know that cooler heads do occasionally prevail: Kenmore Inc., the makers of Dorothy Johnson's microwave, were found not liable for the death of Mrs. Johnson's poodle after she gave it a bath and attempted to dry it by putting the poor creature in her microwave for, "just a few minutes, on low," The case was quickly dismissed. Fabricated from a very old urban legend!

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