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Sunday, November 2, 2014

McDonald ... Stella Liebeck and ... hot coffee liability ...

Way back in January 1977, in a series otherwise marred by the ‘vaseline incident’ of John Lever – the 3rd test was played at Chepauk.  Tony Greig, Bob Woolmer, Willis, Lever, Old, Underwood all played.  In the 2nd essay, set to score 284, India gave a pathetic display getting dismissed for a paltry 83 – it is not about the match or about Vaseline …. Chepauk used to draw crowds – we used to carry homemade food – but the coffee (Peacock hotel !) was an attraction …. During tea time, when everyone hustled to have a cup of filter coffee, a man returning with two hot cups of coffee – turned hastily and spilt it on another – the victim was short and was bald – instead of a fisticuff – it turned out to be laughter – one apologised and others  laughed ….

There are so many MNCs in India now ….. the McDonald's Corporation is the world's largest chain of hamburger fast food restaurants. Headquartered in the United States, the company began in 1940 as a barbecue restaurant operated by Richard and Maurice McDonald. McDonald's primarily sells hamburgers, cheeseburgers, chicken, french fries, breakfast items, soft drinks, milkshakes, and desserts.

There is a famous liability case associated with Mcdonalds.  Stella Liebeck of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was in the passenger seat of her grandson's car when she was severely burned by McDonalds' coffee in February 1992. Liebeck, 79 at the time, ordered coffee that was served in a styrofoam cup at the drivethrough window of a local McDonalds. After receiving the order, the grandson pulled his car forward and stopped momentarily so that Liebeck could add cream and sugar to her coffee. Liebeck placed the cup between her knees and attempted to remove the plastic lid from the cup. As she removed the lid, the entire contents of the cup spilled into her lap. She suffered scalding injuries and Liebeck, who also underwent debridement treatments, sought to settle her claim for $20,000, but McDonalds refused.

In July 2014, Daily Mail reported of another incident of a Woman, 22, threatening  to sue McDonald's after suffering painful blisters because of hot chocolate spilled over her lap.  It was Sam Smith from Litherland, Merseyside, who suffered second degree burns after spilling a McDonald's hot chocolate over her groin.  She claims that she was so severely injured that she may now require plastic surgery after the trip to the Switch Island branch of the global fast food firm.

Although Stella Liebeck case was presented as frivolous in media reports, it had important and long-lasting implications for civil law in the U.S. A jury awarded her $200,000 in damages, later reduced to $160,000.there for sure was lot of hype about the McDonalds' scalding coffee case. The initial Q was why should a company pay when someone has spilt on themselves…… it is stated that McDonalds coffee was not hot, it was scalding -- capable of almost instantaneous destruction of skin, flesh and muscle.  When the aged Liebeck placed the cup between her knees and attempted to remove the plastic lid from the cup, the entire contents of the cup spilled into her lap. The sweatpants Liebeck was wearing absorbed the coffee and held it next to her skin. 

A vascular surgeon determined that Liebeck suffered full thickness burns (or third-degree burns) over 6 percent of her body, including her inner thighs, perineum, buttocks, and genital and groin areas. She was hospitalized for eight days, during which time she underwent skin grafting. The elderly woman who became a punchline had 16% of her body covered in burns and McDonalds had ignored 700 earlier complaints about excessively hot drinks.

Stella Liebeck was 79-years-old in 1992 when she was in her grandson's parked car and spilled coffee on her lap.  Later reports suggest that the court  after viewing the physical damage that she underwent they decided to give her a hefty sum.  At the time, McDonalds earned roughly $1.33million per day on coffee sales alone, so the jury felt it was appropriate for them to pay the equivalent of two day's earnings.

Another point in Mrs Liebeck's favor- which was pointed out in a documentary called 'Hot Coffee'- was the fact that McDonalds ordered workers to brew their coffee between 180 degrees and 190 degrees. Typical at-home coffee machines brew their drinks at about 30 degrees lower.  A doctor testified that a 180-degree liquid can cause third-degree burns in less than 15 seconds.  'I was not in it for the money. I was in it because I wanted them to bring the temperature down so that other people would not go through the same thing I did,' Mrs Liebeck said in an interview included in the Retro Report. Mrs Liebeck's case turned into the touchstone for complaints about excessive litigation, but many did not know the details of the case due to her inability to speak out after signing on to the confidential agreement reached between she and McDonalds.

She died at the age of 91 in 2004.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

News collated from various sites principally

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