Oh, Yes. Very Frivolous


A while back, our own Chris Rhetts asked me to unlimber the Smack-o-Matic and deliver an epic beatdown. He pointed me to this:


And I watched the trailer:

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.

Comments

  1. says

    There's another reason to be irritated, too. Making tap water too hot wastes electricity. In a home that doesn't have electric heat, hot water is often the biggest energy user. So, turning the thermostat of the water heater down isn't just better for safety, it saves energy, too.People who need water to be boiling can put it in a mug and microwave it.

  2. says

    Thanks Dana.I wanted to add a long, detailed comment on this post, but I fear it would only come across as the paranoid ravings of an old man.Instead, I would only direct you and your readers to "ALEC Exposed" (alecexposed.org), and see what kind of legislation corporate America and their mouthpiece, the Republican Party, has in store for us. Its all there – everything from the suppression of voting and consumer rights, to anti-environment and union busting legislation. And a whole lot more, all "modeled" behind closed doors – not to benefit the American people – but to extend the power and reach of corporations at the expense of our safety and civil rights.

  3. says

    The facts of this case have been reiterated by numerous liberal websites for going on a decade now, yet somehow, while everyone knows about the frivolous lawsuit where the greedy ol' woman won millions from poor, poor Mickey D's, few realize she was nearly killed, permanently scarred, and in excruciating pain for months. Burns are the worst tissue damage people can receive and still have a chance of survival, the most difficult and expensive to treat, the most at-risk for follow-on complications such as infections, and by far the most painful. Associated nerve damage means chronic pain may persist for the rest of the victim's life. MSM has a commitment to "fair and balanced" reporting, and presumed equivalence of opposing views only so far as one view is not contrary to wishes of their corporate overlords. In this case, outside of those who read specialty sites, the vast majority of people are completely unaware there IS another side, let alone the facts that side has in its arsenal.The party of, by and for corporate greed would have you believe that all lawsuits are as "frivolous" as this one… imagine the horror if they are, in fact, telling the truth regarding this one item.

  4. says

    I remember when this incident happened yet I still hadn’t heard the other side of the story until today. It would be nice if we could get more reasoned thought and commentary from the news organizations instead of predefined talking points.

    Thanks for the blog and providing the missing pieces of information so that I can better understand reality as it is instead of a fantasy world that some people would hope I would believe in.

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