Even though the case was decided in August 1994, mention the “McDonald’s coffee” lawsuit and everyone knows what you are talking about. Many Americans see this case as the definitive problem with our justice system. That is, flatly, false. This case has been completely misrepresented by a misinformed press and, as a result, misunderstood by the public. The media and the insurance company backed U.S. Chamber of Commerce has manipulated the facts of this case for the purpose of misleading the public into believing that tort reform is necessary. If your beliefs have been shaped only by what you have heard or read in the media, I encourage you to hear and see the real facts. The real story will surprise you.
On November 13, 2009, F.B. Drake wrote an article in the Oregon Mail Tribune entitled “Justice System: A Distorted Truth” about an attorney, Susan Saladoff, who is currently producing and directing a documentary called Hot Coffee, Is Justice Being Served? In this documentary, the truth is told about what really happened to Stella Liebeck, the 79-year-old grandmother who suffered third-degree burns and was hospitalized for eight days. The “hot coffee case” is not about frivolous lawsuits. It is not about “jackpot justice.” This was a real case of justice being served and when given the real facts, most people understand that it is a serious case, with serious public safety issues, serious injuries, and serious liability against McDonald’s for breaches of public safety.
Dennis Powers of Ashland recently wrote an op ed responding to Drake’s article in the Mail Tribune stating “corporate America’s manipulation of the U.S. justice system to prevent lawsuits" looks more like an attempt to become the Michael Moore of personal injury attorneys.” Powers further stated that Ms. Saladoff’s film was not about justice, but, rather, about money. Money?! The project is a non-profit venture and is fully funded by donations. In Mr. Powers’ piece, he refers to the jury’s award and subsequent settlement as “free cash” for the plaintiff. Free?! Stella Liebeck suffered horrific injuries as the result of a company policy that McDonald’s knew was dangerous to the safety of the public, but still, stubbornly, refused to change. Do you consider grotesque third degree burns all over your inner thighs and several painful skin graft procedures “free”?
Powers states that “Any lawyer can sue anyone”; I pose this question to Mr. Powers: Why would they? Attorneys who bring litigation do so at a considerable expense and risk of their own dollars and reputations; they receive no compensation unless and until a settlement or verdict is rendered and paid. Despite Mr. Powers’ absurd premise, lawyers do not spend their time and money on “frivolous” cases and they do not unfairly “attack” small businesses. Attorneys typically handle these cases on a contingency fee basis (they receive no fee unless the case is successful); there is absolutely no incentive to pursue “frivolous” cases.
The public is not victimized by case results as tort reformists like Mr. Powers would have you believe. The public is, however, victimized by this tort reform concept, which usually comes in the form of a damages cap or limit on victims’s compensation. Someone has to pick up the bill for the injured and disabled, do you prefer that it be paid by privately paid for insurance or do you, the taxpayer, prefer to pay for it in increased public assistance? Yes, you read that correctly, the taxpayers will be required to foot the bill if the tort reformers have their way, the bill for responsible doctors, responsible corporations, and responsible private insurance companies that profit from the premiums we all pay, accepted the risk, then lobbied for tort reform to avoid it.
The injustice of tort reform is to the victim and the American people. This documentary is NOT “all about a public relations effort for the personal-injury lawyers’ lobby.” What is the agenda, you ask? It is to educate the public on tort reform – the truth and the misconceptions, the repercussions to our civil justice and health care systems if the tort reformers have their way, and how it will ultimately pass the cost from those who profited from accepting the risk (insurance companies) to you, the taxpayer, who received nothing and must pay, dearly. Do yourself a favor. See this documentary when it is released – decide for yourself whether the McDonalds case was serious or frivolous, whether our justice system already has appropriate checks and balances against the filing of frivolous cases, and whether there is any justification for reforms that restrict the average American citizen’s access to justice.
Lawsuit Financial is a pro-justice lawsuit funding company providing strategic legal finance to plaintiffs in a pending lawsuit. It is our mission to enhance the pursuit of justice and to continuously educate the public about the civil justice system. Just like Mr. Powers, we advocate for a fair legal system that is all about justice, not greed. Compensating seriously injured and disabled people for their injuries and disabilities is not about greed. We know of no seriously injured person who would trade their good health foro money. So, here is where we differ from Powers: In the civil justice debate it is the insurance companies and the so-called tort reformers who are greedy. It is not, as Mr. Powers would have you believe, seriously injured accident victims and their attorneys
Observe the true facts and decide for yourself; again, see this important movie. And ask your self: Do you want those who were paid for and accepted payment for the risk of the negligence of others to compensate victims or do you, the taxpayer, want to compensate them? Do you want to see justice served? Make a donation and see this movie.
Experienced attorney, lawsuit funding expert, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Legal Thriller Series. The series features super-trial lawyer Zachary Blake handling "ripped from the headlines" legal and political issues of the day. The series currently consists of Betrayal of Faith, Betrayal of Justice, Betrayal in Blue, Betrayal in Black, and Betrayal High, with a sixth Zachary Blake novel due out later this year. To learn more about these topical social justice legal thrillers. please visit markmbello.com. Mark is a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.