Hot Coffee. Is the Cup Half Empty or Half Full?

First of all, this film is very controversial.  And I know you don’t tune into a romance blog to read about controversy.  So if you don’t want controversy, feel free to tune out.

Second, I’m three things depending upon the issue.  On some issues I’m a conservative.  On others a liberal.  And on others a moderate.  I just watched Hot Coffee, a documentary titled for the infamous McDonald’s hot coffee case.  Stella Liebeck suffered severe burns after placing a cup of hot coffee between her legs while sitting in the passenger seat of a parked car.  Opening the lid to add cream and sugar, she accidentally tipped the cup over, spilling coffee over the inside of her thighs, buttocks and genital area.

Only the Snow Queen could be unsympathetic.  Mrs. Liebeck’s third degree burns were awful.  Really terrible.  She sued McDonald’s for help with her medical bills.  A jury awarded her significant punitive damages which a judge later reduced.

A fact for your consideration:  In the ten years prior to Mrs. Liebeck’s accident, McDonald’s received over seven hundred complaints about their coffee.  In that same time period, they sold around ten billion cups of coffee.

Be warned.  This is not an impartial documentary.  The film was made by a trial lawyer.

I have nothing against trial lawyers.  They aren’t related to Satan.  My father is a retired trial lawyer and he’s an upstanding guy.  Honest to a fault.  And I’m on the fence when it comes to tort reform, sometimes in favor, sometimes not.

But most big corporations aren’t related to Satan either.

Much of the film addresses Jamie Leigh Jones and her case against KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton.  (Speaking of Halliburton, here’s what I’ve always said about Dick Cheney – at least he has a brain.  He may have an evil brain, but at least he has one.  Reminds me of Pinky and the Brain.)  If you watch Hot Coffee, consider both sides – I encourage you to read this article in Mother Jones, a liberal journal – Why Jamie Leigh Jones Lost Her KBR Rape Case.

As sympathetic as I am to victims of wrong-doing, and I’m extremely sympathetic, I’m not entirely convinced… well, let me put it this way – we want the government out of our lives,  yet at the same time we want the government to save us from our own stupidity.

A few observations and questions:

My husband bitches and moans if his coffee isn’t the temperature of molten lava, but I have to cool mine down to lukewarm before I can drink it.

Have you ever burned the roof of your mouth by taking a big bite out of a bubbling hot piece of pizza?  Did you consider filing a lawsuit because of the injury to your palate?

I’m not a fan of cigarettes, and I think parents who smoke around their children are idiots, but if you smoke and you get lung cancer or bladder cancer or emphysema, don’t come crying to me, blaming the tobacco companies.  The cigarette/cancer/emphysema connection has been common knowledge for at least two generations, maybe three.  So don’t act all surprised when you end up toting around that portable oxygen unit.

Should Mrs. Liebeck have sued the car company in addition to McDonald’s because her grandson’s car had no cup holders?

Should a restaurant cut your steak into itty-bitty baby pieces so you can’t choke on it?

Is it the doughnut’s fault you ate it?

I don’t know…




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23 Responses to Hot Coffee. Is the Cup Half Empty or Half Full?

  1. Amber Skyze says:

    Yeah, I have issues with people who sue over stupid things. The cigarette/cancer thing is a big one. I’m a former smoker and if I were to get cancer or something related to smoking I couldn’t sue. It would my own fault. I could go on and on, but I won’t. :)

  2. Tom Stronach says:

    Sorry, I am not on the fence on this one. You have bought a hot coffee you place it between your knees and it spills for whatever reason and horribly burns you. THAT IS NOT THE FAULT OF THE COMPANY THAT SOLD YOU THE COFFEE and the people sitting on the jury are IDIOTIC NUMPTIES.

    If Mrs Liebeck had been at home, made a coffee and was sitting drinking it and the handle broke on the mug, or the cat or dog jumped in her lap, or a picture fell off the wall because the hook gave way. giving her a fright, all with the same result, spilling her home made coffee over herself, who would she have sued then?

    If the person who had sold her the coffee had tripped and thrown it over her as she was being served, fair enough, but NO, NO, NO NO

    Just saying…….

  3. Katalina Leon says:

    I’m so sorry about the lady’s burns and I’m even more sorry about the steaming hot piles of “stupid” that seem to have seeped into everyday life.
    I hope someone remembered to warn the lady about McDonald’s hot apple turnovers? They never cool off, those things defy physics.
    XXOO Kat

  4. Penelope says:

    We live in a very litigious society. There are def. times that it is appropriate to file a lawsuit, but sometimes….bad stuff just happens and no one is at fault. Many of the “cases” I see could be rectified by the application of good old-fashioned common sense. (Like not putting a steaming hot cup of coffee in your crotch when you are in the car).

  5. Jaye says:

    My philosophy is, Shit happens. It happens when you’re smart, it happens when you’re dumb. Deal with it, move on. I wouldn’t wish coffee burns on anyone (I’m in the molten lava camp and have suffered the consequences on a few occasions), but like Tom pointed out, spilling one’s coffee is a far different thing than having someone throw it on you.

    Giving any government the power to create laws and regulations against “shit happens” accomplishes one thing only. It gives the government more power.

    Ah, people… can’t eat ‘em, so gotta love ‘em.

  6. yoshi says:

    Clearly McDonalds is at fault here. It is not nearly enough to post “warning- coffee is HOT!” on the cup (in 3 languages). They should be forced to ban coffee sales in drive throughs altogether or at least be limited to selling it in sippy cups. In addition they should be required to include a picture of an overturned coffee cup spilling in the lap of a hapless victim for those who can’t read. And what about blind people? It should be in braille too. I for one am eagerly awaiting the class action lawsuit by all those people who became diabetic after being hooked on Happy Meals as children. I hear that those little toys were actually insidious mind control devices. They must be held accountable for their actions!

  7. Kat – the temperature of those turnovers is approximately the same as the surface of the sun! I bet you could heat an entire city block with just one! And the worst thing is, if you drop them on your lap because they stick! But, this is life. My father loves the turnovers and he’ll take them back if they aren’t hot enough. He’ll take back the coffee and ask for a cup of ‘scalding’ coffee. So will my husband. Now me? It’s been years since I ate a turnover, but I remember breaking it in half and letting it sit for 15 minutes before I tried it.
    It’s like Peet’s Coffee. My husband and daughter can drink it. I have to remove the lid and let it cool. Might take 10-15 minutes until I’m willing to take a sip.

  8. Tom, I cannot disagree. Yes, if a McDonald’s employee had dumped the coffee on her or on her grandson while handing it out the drivethru window, yes, McDonald’s would be at fault. Coffee is hot. It’s a hot beverage. I am guilty of taking many risks, but even I will not put a hot beverage between my legs for any reason whatsoever.

  9. Hi Amber. I smoked for one year because I thought it was so cool! But I knew I was taking a risk. I quit because my hair smelled bad.

  10. The way I see it, Penny, we are always looking for someone to blame when bad things happen. Sometimes someone is to blame and sometimes it’s just us. Hot coffee and no cup holders does not make for a safe scenario.

  11. Yes, Jaye, shit does indeed happen. When I was 6 years old, my mom (on the phone) asked me to unplug a whistling electric tea kettle. I’d never done it before. I didn’t know steam could burn and she had apparently unplugged her brain. I shoved a chair over to the counter, stood on my tippy toes and reached my arm over the steam to unplug the tea kettle. Ended up with 3′ burns over the entire inside of my upper arm. I suppose one could claim this was a design flaw, if one had the chutzpah. But, obviously it was just ignorance on my part and inattention on hers. Shit happens.

  12. Yes, Yoshi. And all ladders should be banned. Along with cardboard because I’ve sliced my fingers opening cardboard boxes.

  13. Stephanie says:

    My husband saw an article by a European (pre-Union – now they are probably more litigious) to the effect that if we were to employ common sense we would have less cause to blame others for our own stupidity. {aside: My filthy mind has an analogy involving dentures and sex acts probably still illegal in some states, but I will leave that to your imagination. }
    The European was shocked to find the immense sheet of paper in several languages describing the dangers of a newly purchased blow dryer. The writer felt that the large sheet of paper describing the 900 ways not to kill or maim yourself with the hairdryer could be replaced with one sentence: “Think briefly before using this product.” If someone is incapable of doing the ‘think briefly’ part then the sheet of instructions aren’t going to help.

  14. Stephanie says:

    oh and I love Yoshi.

  15. Kayla Graham says:

    I feel if you are the one who spilt the coffee on yourself, than it is YOUR fault. It is not the McDonalds or Burger King’s fault, they only sold it to you. If you are the one to spill it, be a big girl or boy go get it checked out and move on. People sue for the dumbest reasons lol.

  16. Casey Wyatt says:

    Thanks for the food for thought. Have you ever read Fast Food Nation? I still think about that book. Same with Super Size Me, Matt Spurlock’s documentary. I think you summed it up perfectly when you said:

    – we want the government out of our lives, yet at the same time we want the government to save us from our own stupidity.


  17. Hi Casey. Yes, I read Fast Food Nation and I saw Super Size Me. I agree fast food can contribute to obesity, but nobody makes us eat it.

  18. Kayla, the way I see it, spilling it on yourself in a car is no different than sitting down at a table and spilling coffee. Except that one should be aware of how dangerous it is to do anything in a car where you don’t have a stable surface to set a cup. Hot coffee is hot no matter where you spill it. It would be totally different if a McDonald’s employee had spilled it. I’ll tell you, her burns were awful. I just don’t think McDonald’s is responsible.
    What the documentary is trying to say is that McDonald’s should be held accountable because they made the coffee hot. I wonder if during the trial anyone asked the plaintiff if she’d bought McDonald’s coffee before and knew that it was hot.

  19. Steph – it’s like all the warnings on a ladder. Yes, anybody who thinks they can’t fall off a ladder is probably not going to read any warnings anyway.

  20. anny cook says:

    My daughter was burned by hot tea from McDonald’s. She was eleven. We were on vacation and stopped there for breakfast. They had oil cloth table cloths on the little tables with a flower in a vase. Some one in the family went to get sugar and stirrers for our hot drinks. The table cloth caught on their clothing and dumped the tea in her lap. Yep. The same place as that other lady. She was ELEVEN with second degree burns.

    It didn’t occur to me to sue. I wish I had because… when I went to the counter to seek assistance (paper towels, a cup of ice, hospital info…) they couldn’t be bothered. Actually, the manager told me she didn’t know where the hospital was. We stopped at the gas station next door for directions only to find out it was located TWO blocks away.

    After considerable time in the ER we had a decision to make. Go on to our destination? Five hours. Go home? Seventeen hours. We had no money. We went on to the state park where our family reunion was. At least there we had some assistance. We needed a doctor to debride her burns. Found a doctor willing to take an out of town patient. Prayed he wouldn’t charge us so much we didn’t have gas to get home. He took care of her for three mornings in a row. Bill? $25.00 total.

    I wrote to McDonald’s about how dangerous the table cloths were and sent pictures of her burns. Never heard from them. Ever. The manager at the store refused to do an accident report.

    Was the burn our fault? I say 50-50. But the callous behavior of the management? That was ALL on them.

  21. Anny, there is never an excuse for rudeness from any service provider. Ever.

  22. sandra cox says:

    You’re right. We are such a sue society we’ve become teflon.

  23. Sandra, we are pretty eager to jump into the legal arena. Doesn’t always pay off like we think it will.