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Nick DiCello
Nick DiCello
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The McDonald's Hot Coffee Case

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All of us have heard about the multi-million dollar verdict in favor of the woman who spilled her McDonald’s coffee in her lap while pulling away from the drive-thru, right? The McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case has become legendary, exposing a "jackpot civil justice system" or as one of too many "frivilous lawsuits" clogging up the courts… right? In fact, just mentioning the Mcdonald’s hot Coffee Case promotes discussion about tort reform, runaway jury verdicts, frivilous lawsuits, too many lawsuits, etc… The Case provokes outrage and outright disgust at how our civil justice system can be and is abused by dishonest litigators and lawyers looking to cash in.

The idea that someone who is trying to drive with hot coffee pressed between her legs can be awarded millions of dollars for her carelessness when the coffee inevitably spills is outrageous. That is what the McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case is all about… right? If so, how can our civil justice system, including jurors from our own communities who sit in judgment and render verdicts and monetary awards, allow for such an outrageous and seemingly unjust result? Is the civil justice system broken? What were the jurors who heard the McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case thinking?

What we all know about the McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case is that some careless woman spilled her coffee while trying to drive. What if there were more to the McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case though? Perhaps something that could explain the verdict rendered by a jury made up of ordinary people from our own communities. For example, what if the plaintiff who won the award was not driving at all, but instead was a passenger in the car? What if the coffee was so hot that it mutilated the woman’s genitalia and caused third degree burns? What if the woman scalded by the hot coffee had to undergo skin grafting and surgery? What if McDonald’s knew the coffee they served to people driving in their cars was dangerously hot – hot enough to cause serious injuries? What if McDonalds’ motivations in keeping the coffee so hot was profit-driven as opposed to driven by customer safety?

The McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case is widely accepted as being a frivilous lawsuit. The verdict is unanimously derided as an abuse of justice. But what do we really know about the facts of the McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case? What do we really know about the woman who spilled it on her lap? Do we even remember her name? What do we know about her injuries? Her medical bills? Why is it we don’t seem to know much more than what we have been told – that some careless woman spilled her hot coffee while driving her car?

Now there is a new documentary film that answers these questions and more about the McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case. Entitled Hot Coffee, the film explains that we don’t really know much at all about the McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case. Instead, we know what has been portrayed in the media and propogandized about the McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case.

Hot Coffee tells the story of what really happened to Stella Liebeck, the Albuquerque, New Mexico woman who sued McDonald’s after spilling coffee on her lap. The documentary also explores the sensationalization of the McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case by the media and corporate America. The film chronicles how certain business interests twisted the facts of the case and capitalized on using the case as being emblematic of the "problems" with our jury system in an effort to continue to erode our right to a trial by a jury of our peers.

At a minimum, Hot Coffee presents a side and facts of the McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case most of us have never seen or heard. It is well worth watching. And as the filmmaker’s website says "After seeing this documentary film, you will decide who really profited from spilling hot coffee."

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    Thanks for the great post. This is one of those cases where tort-“reform” advocates spout off about the case, but the more you look at the facts, the more you realize this case is all about the system working.

    I think people who care about victims owe it to themselves to get familiar with these facts so they can respond to the false arguments for tort reform.