I acknowledge to hearing the case as a cautionary tale of an elderly lady awarded a punitive verdict of a huge sum after hot coffee spilled on her within her vehicle. I feel the ruling was lenient to the senior woman to award her punitive verdict under product liability tort despite contribution being a likely cause. However, I feel McDonalds Restaurants were equally liable for serving coffee whose excessive hot made the product unreasonably dangerous to cause severe injuries to the consumer. I absorb the elderly woman from contributed negligence since the product lacked sufficient warnings of inherent risk hence defectively marketed. The proof of this development in the case makes me support the award since the product ability to inflict such injuries breached the fitness for purpose requirement.
Were the injuries such that a lawsuit should have been brought?
The counterclaim of the contributed negligence of Ms. Liebeck to the spilled coffee aside, I find the severity of the injuries enough to warrant a lawsuit. The cause of the injuries arose of the victims attempts to remove the plastic lid from the cup and policy to serve the tea at 180 to 190 degrees exposed the ladys skins to third-degree burns in a short period. The temperature of the content was astonishing higher than reasonable range thus capable of causing severe burns irrespective of the clothing. In this case, Liebeck suffered full thickness burns as the sweatpants absorbed the hot coffee. Holding the coffee to her skin led the woman to suffer full thickness burns as the clothing held the hot coffee. Besides the third-degree burns, the injury spread to her inner thighs, buttock region severely burning her groin and genitals. Thirdly, the burns spread injuring her subcutaneous fat, muscles, and bone, inflicting sharp pains on the elderly woman. The injury was sever leading to eight-day admission before undergoing skin grafting and debridement. The nature of the injury suffered caused permanent disfiguration and disability for the incident while costing her medical expenses approximated at $11,000 (Cain 15).
Do you agree with the Verdict?
The verdict awarding Ms. Liebeck $2.7 million seems a fair settlement of the case following the development of the case. Firstly, McDonalds refused her request for settlement of her medical expenses that cost her a fortune of $11,000. Instead, the company turned her away citing her responsibility to the injury and alleged she drank as she drove herself. These claims not only caused further suffering since Ms. Liebeck was seated in the vehicle that her grandson had pulled to allow her to add sugar. Secondly, the Liebeck refusal was a repeat incident of the McDonalds coffee inflicting similar third-degree burns to a Houston woman. While in the case, then McDonalds quality assurance manager acknowledged awareness of the risk, little was done beyond settling the case for $27,500. The management refused Liebeck request to settle for $90,000 as compensation for the pain, suffering and medical bills. Instead, the company countered her request by offering $800 (Cain 14). The development showed arrogance from McDonalds management.
Ms.Liebeck proved the reasonable case to support the case by citing tort under product liability. The product sold to her was excessively hot not to cause severe injuries from the spill. However, the product lacked notification or adequate warning of the imminent risk. Secondly, the defendant acted with a conscious indifference of customers safety with trial evidence indication awareness of over seven hundred claims in the period 1982-1992 from people alleging burns from the product. Before the trial date, McDonald refused to settle $300,000 the plaintiff attorney requested to withdraw the case. Although the victim would take half the request, McDonalds refused such attempt and quickly threw out proposals to settle for $225,000 recommended by a mediating party (Cain 15).
The evidence presented during the trial supports the award of punitive verdict since the management was aware of previous cases of similar magnitude. In particular, the plaintiff attorney brought to attention an expenditure of over $500,000 incurred to settle coffee-burns related claims. A repeat of such incident to Ms. Liebeck showed negligence for McDonalds refusal to adjust its corporate policy and ensure coffee was served at the safer temperature. The question on the temperature of the liquid revealed flawed counter from the McDonald citing the product was fit for consumption. This revealed ignorance to facts presented in the case indicating that serving the coffee at slightly lower temperature would offer a chance to disrobe. The argument faulted McDonald argument for indifference effect on the product temperature to cite victims clothing was responsible for the severity. The thermodynamics expert revealed a contradicting witness showing that unreasonable degrees at 190 would cause severe damage in twelve to fifteen seconds while taking twenty seconds at 160 degrees (Cain 15). Were McDonald's to change their corporate policy to lower the products temperature, it would offer the consumers opportunity for quick response to prevent severe burns. However, failure to correct such was evident like burns inflicted upon Ms. Liebeck. The negligence of McDonald individuated the severity of the burns and how they quickly spread.
Opinion of Tort Reform
The case trial illustrated negligence on the quality assurance team despite the earlier revelation of high risk to customer safety when serving the coffee at near-boiling point temperatures. The more prior case in 1988, was enough to warrant the adjustment to the corporate policy alongside the $500,000 spent to settle similar burns claims (Cain, p. 15). Moreover, the company was at fault for its failure to investigate the margin of safety and rate of speed burn if they were to serve the coffee at room temperature. Regarding the number of claimants on second and third degree burns as insignificant to the billions of cups sold annually showed little sympathy to address the imminent danger posed by the extremely high temperature. However, disregarding the seven hundred individuals severely burned by the product as insignificant showed little concern for customers margin of safety. The case indicates a need to contain conscious indifference of risks in their products. The verdict does not confirm a frivolous lawsuit, therefore, should not form the basis to initiate tort reform. The law already offers sufficient checks and balances with capable control measures to deter and penalize unmerited lawsuits and excessive verdicts, which Ms. Liebeck is not a frivolous case.
The presence of corporate indifference showed by McDonalds should be punished to deter efforts that refuse responsibility to consider the safety of margin and fit for purpose in the products. Although conscious of the risks involved in the extremely hot coffee, McDonald's failed to warn the consumers of it. Instead, the company should own its fault in future instances to change the corporate policy rather than hind behind the statistics to avoid responsibility. The company should consider out-of-court settlement rather than allow the victim to seek justice at the court corridors. Such would save the companys reputation and expenses related to settling punitive damages.
Cain, Kevin G. "The McDonald's Coffee Lawsuit." Journal of Consumer & Commercial Law (n.d.): 14-19.
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