The successful lie I want to talk about today involves the infamous McDonald's coffee case. You probably remember it, even if you weren't born or weren't old enough to understand what was going on when it happened. And if you DO remember it (or heard about it later), you're probably rolling your eyes about now and remembering how some lady CLEANED UP when a jury awarded her millions of dollars 'cause she spilled her coffee in her lap while she was driving and it was--surprise, surprise--hot.
Please understand that I speak with the highest degree of professionalism, both as a writer and as an attorney, when I say: NUH UH!
Didn't happen like that.
What do I mean? A lot of things, and I'm not going to go into a lot of detail because I've already listed the most critical points here: That McDonald's Coffee Thing is Still Bugging Me
Just a few points, though, in passing:
- She didn't get millions of dollars;
- She wasn't driving;
- She had third degree burns over 16% of her body;
- She'd offered to settle for $20,000
That's what I thought.
Now, it's not unusual for mainstream news outlets to get the details wrong when reporting on a court case. There are a lot of technicalities involved, and sometimes the finer points are lost. Sometimes the outcome is reported correctly, but the reporter didn't fully understand the reasoning behind the outcome. Sometimes a word means something entirely different in the courtroom than it means in everyday parlance.
None of that happened in this case. The misinformation about the McDonald's coffee case--misinformation that made such an impression that it's still being mentioned today in support of tort reform and as evidence of our "lawsuit happy" society--was absorbed directly from the misinformation machine that is the insurance lobby. It was perhaps one of that industry's greatest accomplishments that a case in which a woman received fair compensation ($640,000, not millions) for serious injuries (3rd degree burns over 16% of her body, including her genital area) sustained through the fault of a large corporation (McDonald's admitted at trial that it knew that there was a burn risk in serving food at more than 140 degrees, but that it had nonetheless chosen to serve coffee at between 180 and 190 degrees, knowing that liquid at that temperature could not safely be consumed) stands today in the minds of most Americans as a ridiculous abuse of the system.