I’ve always been a big fan and own a couple of his albums. I think I’ve watched "Beer For My Horses" too many times, probably. It’s because I like listening, that I pay attention to the lines of his song. Which surprised me a little when he threw, "Spill a cup of coffee, make a million dollars" into American Ride. I would guess a lot of people missed it or guess that they know what it is, but the reality is that it’s so untrue it deserves a comment.
It’s the McDonald’s case. Yes, that great place that loves to sue others and mistreat employees. It’s the case where so many tort reform lies sprung, but almost no one has ever seen the woman. The 79-year-old woman went to a McDonald’s in New Mexico with her son. She was sitting in the car, not driving as the story goes. She was attempting
to remove the lid when the coffee spilled and was burned by a liquid that was 180-190 degrees Fahrenheit when served and that it was between 165 and 170 degrees Fahrenheit when it was spilled. The coffee you make at home is 135-140 degrees Fahrenheit. She suffered horrific third degree burns to her inner thighs and buttocks. She went to McDonald’s and asked for her $10,000.00 in medical costs, including the cost for debridement and skin grafting. They said no.
A jury listened to all the evidence and found that the coffee was way too hot and that McDonald’s was well aware of that. But they also found the woman 20% at fault. The verdict was $200,000.00 in compensatory damages and $2,700,000.00 in punitive damages. Right off the bat, the court by rule reduced the compensatory amount by her negligence of 20%. The judge also reduced the punitive damages to $480,000.00 . The case was then appealed and reduced again. Following this the case was settled with a nondisclosure agreement. Both the woman and her lawyer have been forced to remain silent while the story has gotten bigger and bigger with each telling.
It was later disclosed that the jury came up with their number by using the amount McDonald’s made in coffee sales for a day. That they came into the case thinking this would be nothing and were surprised with the way McDonald’s didn’t seem to care and that they had over 800 similar incidents.
Why have McDonald’s and other tort reformers continued to tell the one sided story? Well, to get juries to make sure "that never happens again". To convince people that they need insurance, because it could happen to you. And to attack a good system of justice that allows ordinary people to get protection. The system worked as it should in this case, unfortunately people don’t often know what really happened.
I’ll continue to listen, Toby, but you missed the mark on this one. Or at the very least you are helping big business continue to take the consumer for a ride.
A founding partner with Bradshaw & Bryant, Mike Bryant has always fought to find justice for his clients—knowing that legal troubles, both personal injury and criminal, can be devastating for a family. Voted a Top 40 Personal Injury "Super Lawyer" multiple years, Mr. Bryant has also been voted one of the Top 100 Minnesota "Super Lawyers" four times.