How about some Hot Coffee for Breakfast

Anyone else remember the McDonalds Hot Coffee case?

Marbury v. Madison, Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade? Ask anyone in the U.S. or abroad and they will likely tell you about a woman who spilled coffee on herself and collected millions of dollars. The McDonald’s coffee case became the poster child for frivolous lawsuits in America. Jerry Seinfeld did an entire episode where Kramer sued Java World after spilling a café latté on himself while trying to get a seat in a movie theater. Jay Leno, David Letterman and other comedians have made the case the punch line for jokes; there are even the “Stella Awards” (for Stella Liebeck), given each year to the most outrageous and frivolous lawsuits. But if this case was so ridiculous, why did a jury award $2.9 million dollars to this 79 year old after a seven-day trial in 1994? Did McDonald’s not have good lawyers? And how did this case gain such notoriety and remain in the minds of so many people after so many years?

The McDonald’s coffee case has been routinely cited by the media as an example of how citizens have taken advantage of the legal system. In this documentary, you will learn what really happened to Stella, meet her grandson, who was driving the car, and hear from her doctor, the lawyers, McDonald’s quality assurance manager, and the jurors. Was the media’s portrayal of this case fair or was there an agenda by tort-reform groups to create a public perception that lawsuits were out of control. How did it become the poster child for tort reform, what is tort reform and how does it affect everyday Americans?

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11 thoughts on “How about some Hot Coffee for Breakfast”

  1. Two words—Sheila Birnbaum. Some view her as a straight shooter who knows the law. I don’t. Why?

    1- When Jim Bechman was interviewed by ABC Good Morning America about the altered and forged engineering report State Farm used to deny his insurance claim guess what happened. Someone, and I leave it to the reader to figure out who that someone might be, from State Farm threatened ABC with a multi-billion dollar what I would describe as financial injury case. Wait. Mr. Bechman was defrauded by State Farm and if he speaks out about the fraud anyone who airs his interview will be sued for an amount not capped by the Supreme Court decision Sheila got for State Farm? I might be wrong but I assume the case follows the reform efforts rule that— tort reform never focuses on capping damages in financial injury cases. Personal injury cases, which are usually filed against the rich and powerful—gotta have a cap on those. Financial injury cases, which are usually filed by the rich and powerful—no caps. Why? The fact that the same lawyer is working both sides of the judical fence at the same time and not being busted makes her my new hereo.

    2—Remember the move to keep lawyers from shopping for favorable jury pools to hear cases. Guess who testified in front of Congress to support the legislation. Shelia did. When she came to Mississippi where did she want her Katrina cases heard? The Coast? No way she wanted them heard in the least impacted area of the state. Why? Jury shopping? You get the idea.

    3—Where are the pro-business voices demanding we get good insurance rates in Mississippi for wind coverage? We could outlaw lawsuits in South Mississippi against insurance companies and they still wouldn’t write a nickle of new insurance. Why? Because Florida has about 80 percent of the wind risk exposure in the USA and the real battle is over having the fed’s backstop the florida insurance market. We have no private insurance market because of political reasons, not tort reasons. But where are the pro business groups? Chamber, Haley etc.

  2. In the bechman interview ABC cut the audio on Jim and our good friend Chip Merlin because State Farm threatened ABC with an uncapped multi-billion dollar lawsuit by State Farm.

    One rule for State Farm and anouther for their clients. Not fair in my book.

  3. Finally. Finally.

    I have been practicing law for 10 years, 9 as a plaintiff’s lawyer, 1 as a insurance defense lawyer. Over that 10 years I have had non-lawyer friends bring up the “coffee” case time and again in the tort reform discussion. At that point, I tell them a story about a 21 year old under-graduate student at UNO (me) who had the case brought up in his Judicial Process class at UNO. One of the more ignorant students in this class droned on and on about how the Judgment was absurd, etc… . At that point, Professor Neubauer, who I did not think much of as a professor, told the student “I will bring someone in to talk about that case so you can see why the Judgment was not ‘aburd.’ The next week a person came to class who covered the case for a major newspaper; can’t recall which one right now.

    Anyway, the person explained that the facts were as follows: (1) the burns were severe, very, very severe, (2) McDonalds had received complaints, numerous complaints about the temperature of its coffee and (3) McDonald’s lawyers were “awful”. By “awful”, the reporter meant that they ignored the evidence and blamed the victim. Never once addressing the evidence. The jury correctly slammed McDonalds and the rest is history.

    This is a true example of an urban legend spun out of control. The problem from our side, meaning the plaintiffs’ lawyers, is that the advertisers, many of whom can’t practice or try cases for that matter, have cast a long, deep shadow over the rest of us. The plaintiffs’ bar must address advertising in order to better reflect reality. For example, instead of putting someone on TV who looks like they just walked out of a spa and received $100,000.00, put the person who has undergone multiple surgeries as the result of a drunk driver who had $10,000.00 or no liability insurance (one of my cases). These are far more typical than the garbage you see on TV.

  4. ABC also made Robin Roberts cut factual material about State Farm claims and give half the segment to Hartwig to lie on camera about Katrina claims. And of course ABC News, 20/20, etc. have never come back to report on the story.

    As with the coffee case, if companies would handle claims honestly up front they would not deserve punitive damage awards.

  5. Ahem…yes, well… errrrraaaahhhh, sho’nuf?
    OK, Uhm…Ooooommmmmmm…
    My favorite post-natural-manmade-disaster anchor’hackin grounding to da’center smooth to da’fine WORD [slabbed] is not visible in the Masthead.
    Jus’sayin… some’tings ya’jus don’fuckwit…
    Hot Coffee, Big Jim, Mother Nature, the molecular formula C16H16N2O2, Da’Saints, Da’Rigbys, Da’Beat… remember, it’s Da’Beat
    Da’Slab, Galette l’infamie!

  6. Of course many were not happy when Randy Santa Cruz and Chip cut their deal with State Farm. Mr. Beckham entered the State Farm monk for life program and took a vow of silence which he has followed. But you have to know their clients were happy so what can you say…

    Scruggs defends deal
    Scruggs defended the deal, noting that policyholders would still be free to sue State Farm. “We want to help those people who are living their lives in quiet desperation. We have done every single thing we know to do to get them to this point. This is as far as State Farm has ever gone in any similar context,” Scruggs said.

    State Farm attorney Scott Welch said policyholders could still opt out of the settlement by giving a written notice and they could then pursue their cases. “Nobody in this class is being asked to give up anything without agreeing to it,” Welch said. “We want to make this process work. We want it to be easy for everybody.”

    Curtis Lee, 71, of Diamondhead, said he wanted to settle his suit against State Farm, but he turned down a $50,000 offer that Scruggs’ legal team presented. Lee said he already had rejected a more generous settlement offer of $112,000 when a mediator heard his case.

    “It was pennies on the dollar,'” Lee said of State Farm’s most recent settlement offer.

  7. Editilla, the SLABBED is coming just as soon as I master the code…we’re not rebranding – just a “nip and tuck” to look younger (and wouldn’t I love one myself).

  8. Whew! Thanks Doucy, though I was hoping we had wandered into one of those Flashbacks they promised me from the 60s.
    But ya’know…
    8-0 is pretty goddamn spanking!
    McDonald’s, they smell the Glory coming hot coffee my eye.
    They all smell the Glory.
    Ida smells the Glory.
    Even Babar, he knows Glory
    is coming.

  9. And hey, I’m liking this new lool lots. You might could fit “slabbed” in the bottom-right over that white piece of foundation, in sorta Noir Newsprint type?
    The Pic pretty much sayz it all, but I just so love that word.
    So often I seem to be a verb.

  10. Be careful what you wish for in tort reform.

    I have had my rights taken away completely. I do not have the court of law behind me to discover if their was negligence or fraud. And if by chance we can get a judge to let us move forward Medtronic will probably tie the case up for years making is to costly for my lawyer to proceed because of the caps in the state of Minnesota.

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