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Hot Coffee

I am sure everyone has an opinion about the "hot coffee" case brought against McDonald's. The case became the poster child for tort reform. I always thought that the result was reasonable under the circumstances, but mostly heard jokes about the case. It wasn't until I saw the documentary, "Hot Coffee" on HBO that I realized just how reasonable the result was.

The plaintiff was an elderly woman, who was a passenger in a stopped vehicle, when she spilled the coffee on her lap. She was trying to open the lid to put in condiments, when the whole thing spilled onto her groin. The coffee was well beyond a boiling point in temperature, and the pictures of her third degree (highest level) burns on her skin, and the delicate area where it occurred, is not easy to look at. This woman was severely injured.

She was only initially seeking to recoup medical costs, which McDonald's refused. She then had no choice but to bring a lawsuit, and it was the jury who granted punitive damages. Based upon the facts of the case, they had ample justification for awarding the punitive damages, to punish McDonald's for their actions, which went far beyond negligence. They knew the coffee was too hot, and did nothing to remedy the situation. Numerous persons were previously burned, and they were on notice of the defect.

Nevertheless, the Judge reduced the damages. By that time, the myth of a woman getting millions for a spill of coffee was in the mainstream, and the butt of jokes for the legal system. It was also glommed onto by President Bush and his administration as a reason for tort reform.

I ask that anyone who thinks the plaintiff did not deserve damages for her injuries, or that McDonald's should not be held responsible, watch the HBO documentary, Hot Coffee, and form an opinion after seeing all the facts, as well as her gruesome injuries.

It is unfortunate that tort reform is limiting the amount of damages, or making it almost impossible to sue at all, for people who are legitimately harmed by the negligence of others.

Categories: Litigation

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