Here’s a great video about one of the biggest myths of civil lawsuits.
As Adam (who apparently ruins everything) explains, big business constructed a massive disinformation campaign about “frivolous lawsuits.” The media ate it up because it made great headlines. Unfortunately, many people continue to believe that false narrative, despite any truth behind it.
Typically, when I am attempting to select jurors for civil trials, many potential jurors state there are too many frivolous lawsuits filed in the country. When asked by either me or the judge if they could provide any examples, they almost exclusively state the McDonald’s coffee lawsuit. (While I would love to explain to each potential juror about the truth behind that claim, there simply isn’t enough time provided during jury selection in New Jersey.)
The truth is, as I’ve written about before, the 79 year old plaintiff, Stella Lieback, sustained third degree burns on her legs and genitals, requiring extensive skin grafting. The reason for such severe burns was because McDonald’s served their coffee at a scorching 190 degrees. McDonalds said during discovery that, based on a consultants advice, it served its coffee at between 180 and 190 degrees Fahrenheit to maintain optimum taste. They even admitted that at that temperature, their coffee was a hazard. (Other establishments sell coffee at substantially lower temperatures.) Further, they had about 700 complaints by customers that they had been burned by McDonald’s coffee in the decade before.
Ms. Lieback tried to settle for payment of her medical bills, but McDonald’s refused and forced her to incur expenses and go to trial. The jury awarded Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages. This amount was reduced to $160,000 because the jury found Liebeck 20 percent at fault in the spill. The jury also awarded Liebeck $2.7 million in punitive damages, which equaled about two days of McDonalds’ coffee sales. The trial judge reduced the final verdict to $640,000, and the parties settled for a confidential amount before an appeal was decided. Ms. Liebeck died in 2004.
By: Michael Raff, Esq.