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Debunking Civil Justice Myths
No one would ever willingly trade good health for a good lawsuit.
In the nearly 50 years that our family has been representing injured plaintiffs we have seen the horrendous ways a serious injury can change a life and forever impact a family. That is why we have fought big business’ attempts to enact damages caps in New York and worked tirelessly to insure access to the civil justice system.
The myth that juries give money away unreasonably and that plaintiffs abuse the civil justice system has been publicized by corporations and insurance companies for years, but like all myths their claims are fiction.
A documentary called “Hot Coffee” (now on HBO) examines the realities behind the headlines about tort reform, including examining the famous “McDonald’s coffee” case.
Many people believe that the McDonald’s coffee case is a perfect example of abuse of the tort system. They do not know that the jury in that case heard evidence
• that the McDonald’s Operations Manual required the franchisee to hold its coffee at 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit
• that coffee at that temperature, if spilled, causes third degree burns in three to seven seconds
• third degree burns will not heal without skin grafting, debridement and whirlpool treatments that cost tens of thousands of dollars
• that the plaintiff in the famous case sustained third degree burns over 16% of her body • McDonald’s had had complaints of serious burns from scalding hot coffee for more than ten years prior to the accident that was the subject of that case and more than 700 people had been injured
• McDonald’s admitted during trial that coffee at the temperature that they sold it at was not fit for consumption
• The plaintiff was only awarded $200,000 in compensatory damages (which was reduced by a finding that she was 20% at fault), and the 2.7 million award for punitive damages was reduced to $480,000 by the trial judge who called McDonald’s behavior “reckless”.
Knowing this evidence casts a whole new light on the jury verdict, as well as the type of injuries that the plaintiff in that case sustained. Is McDonald’s indifference to potential injury the type of behavior that the government should be protecting by limiting a plaintiff’s right to sue?
We urge you all to watch “Hot Coffee”and, if you share our concerns about the attacks on the civil justice system, go to the “take action”page for the film and find out how to protect your rights and insure that access to justice remains a reality now and in the future.