And I grew very, very angry. Verily, I wished to unleash the Smack-o-Matic upon the deserving. Because, you see, I’d been taken in by that: by the media and the comedians and all the rest who had made bitter fun of the woman who sued McDonald’s for spilling a cup of coffee. None of them ever made any mention of the fact that she’d suffered life-threatening burns in the process. They just laughed: silly wench. She should’ve known better than to spill coffee on herself. What a trivial thing to sue a corporation for.
When the corporation serves its coffee at 180 degrees F – 85% of the boiling point of water – it’s not trivial.
This is how not trivial it is:
Each year, approximately 3,800 injuries and 34 deaths occur in the home due to scalding from excessively hot tap water. The majority of these accidents involve the elderly and children under the age of five. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) urges all users to lower their water heaters to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition to preventing accidents, this decrease in temperature will conserve energy and save money.Most adults will suffer third-degree burns if exposed to 150 degree water for two seconds. Burns will also occur with a six-second exposure to 140 degree water or with a thirty second exposure to 130 degree water. Even if the temperature is 120 degrees, a five minute exposure could result in third-degree burns. [emphasis added]
Go spill some water on yourself. I guarantee you will be exposed for more than two seconds. Now, imagine that cold water is 180 degrees, and you are elderly, and thus already vulnerable to burns. Look at the wet bits of you, and imagine this is what you see (don’t go below the fold if you can’t handle graphic):
Photo courtesy Brown University
Now imagine that is your face.
Corporations should know basic things like, “Even tap water can kill if it’s over 120 degrees. And even very cautious people can spill things in paper cups.” You would hope they’d then say to themselves, “Maybe we shouldn’t serve our coffee at nearly the boiling point of water, then. Our paying customers might get hurt.”
McDonald’s didn’t follow that train of thought. And when their product nearly killed a woman, they offered her a pittance, and a lot of people banded together to turn her into a laughingstock. People didn’t look at the temperature and the fact that McDonald’s was serving an ultra-hot product without warning that it was far hotter than what people normally expect their hot beverages to be, and their subsequent refusal to do anything approaching decent when the inevitable happened and someone got hurt. No, people just tittered over the fact that a woman had spilled coffee on herself and sued.
Well, she’d nearly died, she was left permanently scarred, but she gave them a chance to make things right. A multi-million dollar lawsuit turned out to be the only language McDonald’s could understand.
Tort reform in a country without meaningful regulations and a way outside of lawsuits for consumers to hold companies accountable for their actions is a sick, evil joke.
So yes, I would love to take the Smack-o-Matic to this subject in some depth, but I don’t get HBO, so I can’t do it in tandem with the documentary. But luckily, people with bigger Smack-o-Matics than mine are all over it. Go. Read.
And the next time someone tries to use an elderly woman’s nightmare as an example of a frivolous lawsuit, tell them that only native decency keeps you from suggesting they spill 180 degree coffee on themselves to prove how trivial it is.