14 February 2009


The notorious case of the hapless woman receiving a supposedly huge award for her McDonald’s coffee burns is an interesting study. Read about it here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liebeck_v._McDonald

She received third-degree burns, underwent skin grafting, remained hospitalized for eight days, and was medically treated for two years afterward. Initially the woman asked for only $20,000 for her medical costs. But, after McDonald’s repeatedly refused to settle, her final settlement was under $600,000, not the $2.7 million in punitive damages that the jury awarded. Previously there had been over 700 reported instances of McDonald’s superheated coffee burning people before the case of the Houston woman. Evidently, McDonald’s understood the dangers of its product and was willing to risk any repercussions.

In my estimation it was not a frivolous lawsuit. Sometimes it takes legal action to rectify an egregiously negligent situation (at times with ample warnings of things remiss in their products and practices) and indemnify those people who are on the tragic end of misguided corporate decisions. Yes, we are a litigious society, but there are interests who, to enhance profits, will make cold calculations that they know will damage real people. If that is their calculus, then they should at least pay for some of the human wreckage they knowingly leave behind.

Some people have placed blame on the woman. Others have reasoned that there Is no evil Ronald McDonald plotting in corporate offices to harm humans. But, the facts are that McDonald's' lawyers and corporate officers did, in fact, make the calculation that the corporation would gain monetarily by superheating its coffee--it was coporate policy, not a decision at the level of individual restaurants or individual workers. From the Wikipedia article: "McDonald's quality control manager, Christopher Appleton, testified that this number of injuries [more than 700 reports] was insufficient to cause the company to evaluate its practices."

If corporate malfeasance is not punished, then we are left to the mercy of the bottom line. Is this not common sense?

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