[Omitted: distorted facts, media stereotypes, legal misunderstand]
The woman injured in Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants was 79 years old at the time of her injuries, and suffered third-degree burns to the pelvic region (including her thighs, buttocks, and groin), which in combination with lesser burns in the surrounding regions caused damage to an area totaling a whopping 22% of her body’s surface. These injuries that required two years of intensive medical care, including multiple skin grafts; during her hospitalization, Stella Liebeck lost around 20% of her starting body weight.
She was uninsured and sued McDonald’s Restaurants for the cost of her past and projected future medical care, an estimated $20,000. The corporation offered a settlement of $800, a number so obviously ridiculous that I’m not even going to dignify it with any further explanation.
The settlement number most often quoted is not the amount that the corporation actually paid; the jury in the first trial suggested a payment equal to a day or two of coffee revenues for McDonald’s, which at the time totaled more than $1 million per diem. The judge reduced the required payout to around $640,000 in both compensatory and punitive damages, and the case was later settled out of court for less than $600,000.
Keep in mind that at the time, McDonald’s already had over 700 cases of complaints about coffee-related burns on file, but continued to sell coffee heated to nearly 200 degrees Fahrenheit (around 90 degrees Celsius) as a means of boosting sales (their selling point was that one could buy the coffee, drive to a second location such as work or home, and still have a piping hot beverage). This in spite of the fact that most restaurants serve coffee between 140 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit (60 to 71 degrees Celsius), and many coffee experts agree that such high temperatures are desirable only during the brewing process itself.
The Liebeck case was absolutely not an example of litigation-happy Americans expecting corporations to cover their asses for their own stupidity, but we seem determined to remember it that way. It’s an issue of liability, and the allowable lengths of capitalism, and even of the way in which our society is incredibly dangerous for and punitive towards the uninsured, but it was not and is not a frivolous suit. Please check your assumptions and do your research before you turn a burn victim’s suffering into a throwaway punchline.