The last couple of posts have been pretty depressing, so I thought I would write something fun.
Since discovering the skeptical movement one of the most interesting things that I’ve learned about is that many of the “facts” that are a part of the popular consciousness are actually myths or exaggerations of real stories that have gotten out of hand.
The idea that the legal system in the US is nuts is one of these things that I, and I think a large number of people, have always just taken for granted as being accurate. But in learning about a lot of famous court cases, I’ve been wondering if there really is any truth to this.
When people state that the American legal system has gone to hell, the anecdote that they use is the story about the woman who spilled hot coffee on herself and then successfully sued McDonalds. But after looking at the facts behind the case, it’s my opinion that she was entitled to win the lawsuit:
For years, McDonald’s had known they had a problem with the way they make their coffee – that their coffee was served much hotter (at least 20 degrees more so) than at other restaurants.
The woman involved in this infamous case suffered very serious injuries – third degree burns on her groin, thighs and buttocks that required skin grafts and a seven-day hospital stay.
The woman, an 81-year old former department store clerk who had never before filed suit against anyone, said she wouldn’t have brought the lawsuit against McDonald’s had the Corporation not dismissed her request for compensation for medical bills.
After careful deliberation, the jury found McDonald’s was liable because the facts were overwhelmingly against the company. When it came to the punitive damages, the jury found that McDonald’s had engaged in willful, reckless, malicious, or wanton conduct, and rendered a punitive damage award of 2.7 million dollars. (The equivalent of just two days of coffee sales, McDonalds Corporation generates revenues in excess of 1.3 million dollars daily from the sale of its coffee, selling 1 billion cups each year.) – In the end she was just rewarded $480,000
The US legal system may be in trouble, I don’t know enough about it to be able to determine that. But the McDonalds cofee lawsuit shouldn’t be cited as evidence of a problem.