Archive

Posts Tagged ‘urban legends’

You Deserve The Truth Today….

October 1st, 2015 Comments off

Recently, I received one of those “pass-it-on” emails about the 2015 Stella Awards presented for personal injury cases where plaintiffs are supposedly, the beneficiaries of outrageous verdicts and settlements.  See:  http://forum.cakewalk.com/2015-Stella-Awards-m3227858.aspx.  If you don’t wish to waste the time following the link, I’ll summarize.  The cases include a lady who was injured after placing her Winnebago on cruise control and leaving the wheel, and the woman who tripped over her son in a furniture store, and the teenager who was injured when his hand was run over as he tried to steal the car’s hubcaps.  All of these stories are apocryphal urban legends.  They never happened.  Someone(s) made them up. See:  http://www.snopes.com/autos/techno/cruise.asp.

The awards were so named in honor of Stella Liebeck, a plaintiff who was burned after buying McDonald’s coffee.  The “McDonald’s Case” as it is more commonly called, is one that all defense attorneys hope potential jurors have heard.  It’s a true case.  See Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants, No. CV-93-02419, 1995 (N.M. Dist., Aug. 18, 1994).  Unfortunately, the story that is most widely circulated has the facts all wrong.  As it is told, Mrs. Liebeck bought a cup of McDonald’s coffee passing through the drive-thru.  She attempted to add sugar to the cup as it was on her lap and burned herself when it spilled.  In truth, McDonald’s knew that its coffee, which they intentionally served at 185 degrees, was likely to cause 3rd degree burns if spilled.  They had repeatedly been warned about the danger of serving its coffee at this temperature AND purposefully ignored these admonitions – because they make money selling really hot coffee to desperate caffeine addicts.  They also knew that customers buying coffee from a drive-thru had no alternative but to add sugar while sitting in their cars.  Mrs. Liebeck, who was 79 years-old, sustained full thickness third-degree burns over six (6%) percent of her body including her inner thighs and genitals.  After leaving the hospital, she asked McDonald’s to reimburse her for her medical bills,  about $11,000.00.   McDonald’s refused to be “extorted,” and offered to pay her $800.00 to go away.  Having no alternative, Mrs. Liebeck brought a lawsuit.  After lengthy discovery and a delayed trial, the jury awarded Ms. Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages for her injuries and medical bills, but reduced the award to $160,000 finding that she was also partially at fault for spilling the coffee in the first place. However, the jurors, infuriated by McDonald’s flagrant and callous disregard for the welfare of its customers decided that the company should pay $2.7 Mill. in punitive damages.

The purpose of a punitive damages award is to punish a defendant for purposeful cold-hearted actions and to deter future bad conduct.  Of course the justice system (which the Stella Award people love to malign) has appellate courts, which serve to sever emotion from justice.  The court drastically reduced the punitive damages award.  McDonald’s and Mrs. Liebeck finally settled out of court.  But only on McDonald’s insistence the final settlement was sealed so that it would never be disclosed.

Was Mrs. Liebeck a greedy money-grubbing plaintiff who hit the lottery.  I think not, as I’m sure this elderly woman would gladly have traded the money she was awarded in exchange for the severe pain and permanent damages she lived with for the rest of her life.

The Stella Award committee ignores the many, many cases involving plaintiffs who were terribly injured and appropriately aggrieved, but wrongly denied justice.  I’m sure that the wretched prevaricators (so much a nicer word than “liars”) who sit on the committee would happily resign their seats, hire a personal injury attorney and “sue the bastards” if they were seriously injured as a result of the negligent or purposeful acts of others.

Sir Winston Churchill once said that “democracy is the worst system in the world, except for all the others.” The same is true for our American civil justice system. But we have not yet devised  a better way to resolve these serious claims.

By the way, everybody hates lawyers until they need one.

If you find this blog informative, tell  your friends to have a nice day and pass THIS ONE on.”

Post to Twitter Tweet This Post