The burns on Stella Liebeck’s legs were black, as if acid had dissolved her skin. Ms. Liebeck, the woman who sued McDonald’s for spilling coffee on her lap, was not driving, but sitting in the passenger’s seat of a parked car when she spilled coffee on herself.
On the nightly news, newspapers, and Seinfeld, Ms. Liebeck was turned into a joke. Spill coffee on yourself and sue, it’s the American way!
In reality, Ms. Liebeck sought only the money to pay for her medical bills, which McDonald’s refused to pay. It was the jury that awarded Ms. Liebeck $2.1 million in damages because McDonald’s had reports of dozens of debilitating injuries from their coffee. Most of the jury’s award was for punitive damages –money awarded as a punishment – in order to get the attention of a corporation whose profits are in the billions.
Hot Coffee, the documentary that brought the truth of this matter to my attention, talks about far more than the McDonald’s coffee case. In fact, that case was used as a poster child in order to pass “tort reform” – reform which amounts to nothing more than limiting the amount of damages juries can award. The “caps” on damages were advocated for by insurance companies and other corporations who would have been liable for the millions in damages “tort reform” disallows – money that victims like children with brain damage need to pay for their care. While “tort reform” has passed in many states, insurance premiums have only gone drastically up while the insurance companies are pocketing hundreds of millions in savings.
In my estimation, the documentary also exposes three additional important subjects. One, it shows the horror of “private arbitration” clauses in contracts, which amount to a corporation being able to pick its own judge and keep customers/employees out of court. Two, it shows the way judicial campaigns have been bought and paid for. And three, it adds more evidence to the large file marked “The media reports however billion-dollar businesses want them to.”
The takeaway here – be careful who you elect as judges, “tort reform” needs to be undone, the McDonald’s coffee lady is a brave woman named Stella Liebeck who rightfully took McDonald’s to court, and as always, the best source of news and information are people who speak their own minds and aren’t influenced by billion-dollar corporations.