The McDonald’s case is often cited as an example of abuse in our legal system, the whole “runaway jury” theory.
What most people do not understand is the tremendous spin which was put on that case by special interest groups and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in order to sway public opinion. Holding the case up as an example, interest groups in several states have been able to successfully lobby for tort reform measures to supposedly weed out “frivolous lawsuits”. However, as the article discusses, the need for such reform has been largely manufactured by those pushing for it. The fact is, the very case these interests tout as the poster child for their cause, the McDonald’s case, in reality involved a horrible injury which was allowed to be trivilized and turned into a joke. The woman in the McDonald’s case was seated in her grandson’s parked car when the coffee was spilled, not in a moving vehicle as is often thought. The coffee was served at 180 degrees (40 degrees hotter than home-brewed coffee) and the spill led to skin grafts across her body. She originally only sought enough to cover her medical bills, but McDonald’s only offered her $800.
The jury then returned a verdict of 2.7 million against McDonald’s based on facts that came out in trial that they had intentionally sold coffee at such a high temperature to discourage customers for being able to drink the coffee quickly enough to return for a free refill. Of course this part of the case, that of McDonald’s intentional choice to sell coffee hot enough to melt someone’s skin off their body, is never mentioned by the corporate interest groups who cite the case. Its also not often reported that the judge later reduced the award to $640,000 and in end the injured woman accepted even less in a settlement.
Kansas passed its own form of tort reform years ago which limits pain and suffering recovery in personal injury cases to $250,000 regardless of the extent of the injury.
Missouri had a similar cap on pain and suffering awards in medical malpractice cases which was just struck down recently.