The civil litigation system has been subject to a PR attack since the 80’s launched in large part by large corporations and insurance companies determined to convince the public that tort cases are destroying the economy and benefit only greedy attorneys. While this is obviously untrue, the PR campaign has been effective.
Interestingly, it seemed to gain real traction with the case of Stella Liebeck, who was notoriously injured after hot coffee spilled on her lap at a McDonald’s drive-thru. The Hot Coffee case became a part of our culture, joked about in the media and talked about by nearly everyone. The majority were quick to quip – “Coffee is supposed to be hot!” “It was her own fault, how can she sue”, etc. Outrage mounted after the jury awarded Ms. Liebeck millions. Did anyone, however, understand the true facts of this case.
No one mentions that Ms. Liebeck suffered third-degree burns over 6% percent of her body and required skin grafting. Nor do they mention that Ms. Liebeck was initially only seeking her medical bills to be covered but McDonald’s refused to seriously consider her case even though they had a corporate policy of keeping their coffee much warmer than other coffee suppliers.
The Hot Coffee documentary is about to re-ignite debate on this infamous case. It stands to be interesting and while it will hopefully shed light on the facts of this case, it is certain to re-open debate on the civil litigation system.