Personal Injury: Going Up Against Big Corporations
Going Up Against Big Corporations
It’s rare that you would meet someone who hasn’t heard of the infamous McDonald’s hot coffee case. It’s a story that’s transcended the field of law and taken up residence as a permanent fixture of American pop-culture—a testimonial of America’s sue-happy nature. A woman burnt herself on a cup of hot coffee and was awarded $3 million in damages. And as a result, every disposable coffee cup bares a warning along the lines of “caution: contents are extremely hot”. This warning has been endlessly mocked and parodied. How many times have we all heard, “Of course the contents are hot! It’s hot coffee!” repeated since 1992? For the amount people seem to know about this case, it’s amazing how little people understand the facts.
For one, it wasn’t just a woman who sued McDonald’s. Stella Liebeck was 79 years old. While sitting in the passenger’s seat of a parked car, she took the lid off her coffee to add milk and sugar. It was then that the cup tipped and spilled its contents into her lap. She sustained severe third degree burns to her groin and thighs. She initially offered to settle for $20,000 to cover her medical expenses; however, when McDonald’s refused to offer her more than $800 she took them to court.
The jury members found that the facts of the case obviously put McDonald’s at fault. The fast food chain keeps its coffee heated to 180-190 degrees Fahrenheit—a temperature that will cause third degree burns in less than 10 seconds. Moreover, McDonald’s failed to inform customers of this risk.
Given McDonald’s obvious fault, you would think more steps would be taken to ensure cases such as Ms. Liebeck’s never happen
ed again. However, just last year, a similar case was settled in Raleigh, North Carolina. Police Lt. Matthew Kohr received third degree burns after the lid of Starbucks coffee came off and the cup folded in on itself, causing the coffee to spill into his lap. Kohr requested $50,000 in compensation to cover his medical expenses including a surgery he had to have as a result of the accident.
However, unlike Liebeck, Kohr did not win his case. Starbucks won the case on account of the fact that the coffee Kohrs had spilled had been free and because he had waited two and a half hours to receive treatment for his burns.
The fact of the matter is, large corporations are not on your side when it comes to personal injury. Despite what their representatives might say, when it comes to dollars and cents, companies like McDonald’s and Starbucks are more concerned about their earnings than your well being. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you’re up against one of the big guys, make sure you’re being represented by someone with your best interests at heart. At Oxner + Permar, we’re dedicated to going to bat for our clients, and with $275m in settlements and awards we have the experience to really back them up. No matter the size of your opponent, be sure your rights are being protected.