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The Truth About Lawsuits, Big Companies, and the Media - The McDonald's Hot Coffee Lawsuit

Nearly everyone has heard about the infamous McDonald's coffee case - the old lady who sued McDonald's because their coffee was too hot. But, the true facts of the defective products lawsuit are still murky to most people. Basically, the facts that everyone seems to know include that a woman spilled coffee on her lap, suffered minor burns, and was awarded a ridiculously large settlement. Beyond this general understanding of the case, the true facts become foggy.

The "truth" has been published and republished numerous times. What most people don't know is that the "truth" that we have heard - that this was a frivolous lawsuit filed by a greedy old lady - has been twisted with misinformation. It is not the facts, according to the case, but rather what McDonald's wanted us to hear. This isn't something new - it happens all of the time with high-profile cases - it's a way in which companies protect themselves by using the media to bury the truth. One article exposes the truth. The Case As We Know It What most of us have heard is that there was a 79-year-old woman named Stella Liebeck who spilled McDonald's coffee on her leg as she was driving her car. She suffered minor burns and with the assistance of personal injury attorney, she managed to convince a jury that McDonald's should have provided adequate warning that their coffee was not only hot but could scald people. Stella Liebeck walked away from the lawsuit with a multi-million dollar award. The Facts Of The Case Stella Liebeck was not driving while drinking the coffee served by McDonald's. In fact, she was in the passenger seat and the car was not moving. She was holding the coffee between her legs and removing the cover when the cup spilled over onto her lap. Ms. Liebeck suffered third-degree burns that covered 16 percent of her body, including her genitals. During her eight days of hospitalization, she received extensive skin grafts and ended up with permanent scarring on her body. Coffee at McDonald's was specified by corporate to be served between 180 and 190 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature that an expert witness testified would take only two to seven seconds to cause third-degree burns. We only brew our coffee at home around 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite more than 700 similar claims against McDonald's, they refused to change their policy and turn down the heat on their coffee. When Ms. Liebeck asked McDonald's to settle at $20,000 to help pay her medical bills, McDonald's only offered her $800. She proceeded to take McDonald's to court. Covering The Tracks Corporate lawyers spend years running disinformation campaigns to convince consumers that lawsuits like the one Stella Liebeck filed are frivolous and excessive. Just like the telephone game, the more the story about the McDonald's coffee case spread and mixed with the disinformation, the more the media got the story twisted. Large corporations, such as Pfizer, Texaco, and Philip Morris, also used groups like Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse to turn public opinion against lawsuits because they were afraid of being sued because they are making unsafe products. These groups convinced people that frivolous lawsuits were rampant and that we should not sue companies. We shouldn't feel this way, though, if we have been injured by a product that a company created. In fact, if we have suffered injuries due to a defective or a dangerous product, we have a right to pursue compensation to help us pay our medical bills, our pain and suffering and any time we take off from work to recover. If you need help pursuing a personal injury lawsuit because of a defective product, contact the law offices of Frasier, Frasier & Hickman, LLP at 918-779-3658.

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