7 July 2004

Coffee klatch

Here's a 2001 article from The Washington Monthly with some detailed praise of John Edwards (article via Atrios over at Eschaton). The anecdote that Atrios quotes is a wonderful story of lawyer-as-hero, battling The (Corporate) Man. I found another quote from the article equally interesting, though on a complete tangent.

I'm sick of people always bringing up the of-course type fact that frivolous lawsuits are ruining America and supporting that "fact" with the story of the McDonald's coffee lady. Now, I enjoy a good Seinfeld satire as much as anyone, but we shouldn't take that as gospel. The McDonald's story has long been discredited as an example of a frivolous lawsuit.

Here's the summary of the coffee incident from the article:

To persuade the public that frivolous personal injury suits have brought on a crisis, advocates of change religiously invoke cases like the elderly woman who spilled coffee on herself and won a $2.9 million jury verdict against McDonald's. Such stories tap into a genuine sense of frustration many Americans have with the modern tendency to blame others for problems of their own making. But on closer examination---the kind likely to happen if the GOP declares open war on trial lawyers---such anecdotes will be exposed as the urban myths most of them are. As Roger Williams University torts professor Carl Bogus explains in his book, Why Lawsuits Are Good for America, the woman who spilled her McDonald's coffee had to undergo a skin graft, spend weeks in the hospital, and offered to settle for $10,000 (McDonald's refused). She only sued as a last resort---the epitome of conscientious use of the legal system. Her original award of $2.9 million was later reduced by a judge, as most such judgements are, to $480,000, and she wound up settling for even less. To prevent other suits, McDonald's, which had previously ignored more than 700 similar complaints, stopped serving near-boiling coffee, as did its competitors.

So just shut up.

[ posted by sstrader on 7 July 2004 at 1:55:26 PM in Culture & Society ]