Hot Coffee and the Myth of the Frivolous Lawsuit

Hot Coffee and the Myth of the Frivolous Lawsuit

When we tell our friends and family that we focus predominantly on personal injury work, we naturally hear about “frivolous” lawsuits. Or we hear how “greedy” trial lawyers are responsible for the rising cost of medical care or basically any other thing people purchase. Often, our well-intentioned friends will cite to the famous “hot coffee” case as proof that you can get millions just for spilling coffee on yourself.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. To recognize how power and messaging work together, you must ask “who wants me to believe this?” or “who benefits?” The short answer to those questions here is insurance companies. One of the greatest lies ever told has been the insurance industry’s (and other large corporate industries) relentless effort to paint trial lawyers as greedy fraudsters and legitimately injured people as money-hungry phonies. These industries have spent literally millions of dollars distorting facts so they can push so called “tort-reform” onto an unsuspecting public. They have gotten so good at it that the average person believes he or she is not the kind of person who would ever sue someone. The insurance companies have made lawsuits–seeking compensation for negligence–a dirty word.

That brings us back to the hot coffee case. Many people believe that some idiotic person spilled coffee on herself and then sued McDonalds and got millions of dollars. That is not the truth.  What if I told you that McDonalds served its coffee 20 -30 degrees hotter than the average restaurant because it knew that hotter coffee would make taste irrelevant? What if I told you that the injured person in this case was a 79-year-old woman who wasn’t driving but was rather stopped in the drive through adding cream and sugar to her coffee? What if I told you she suffered third degree burns across her groin, thighs, genitals, and buttocks which led to a seven day hospital stay and three weeks of recovery at home? What if I told you that the 79-year-old woman initially asked McDonalds to cover her out-of-pocket costs which were only $2,000? What if I told you McDonalds said no and offered to pay her only $800?

It gets worse. What if I told you that at the trial a McDonald’s quality control manager testified that his company knew its coffee was dangerously hot but that it had no plans to lower the temperature or warn its customers that its coffee was significantly hotter than the average restaurant? What if I told you that McDonalds knew that at least 700 other people had suffered significant injuries from its coffee but chose to do nothing? That 79-year-old woman asked for $100,000 at trial to cover the medical bills and for pain and suffering. A jury of her peers was so disgusted by McDonald’s conduct that it awarded her $2.7 million in punitive damages. However, the judge, following years of precedent from judges appointed by politicians in the pockets of big business, reduced that award to $640,000.

There was nothing frivolous about the hot coffee lawsuit. Instead, it is just another example of a large corporation putting its profits over the safety of its customers. But the vast majority of people likely do not know the full story. Ask yourself why? Who benefits? It certainly wasn’t the 79-year-old victim. For more information about this case and others like it, you should check out the documentary Hot Coffee by medical malpractice attorney Susan Saladoff. Just know that you are likely going to be very angry by the time you are done watching it.

At CGH we are proud of the work we do. We are proud to fight for the little guy. If you or a loved one has been injured or harmed, you deserve to be made whole. The insurance companies want you to feel bad about asking for fair compensation for the errors of the people they insure. Don’t be. Call CGH today.

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