International Coffee Day is October 1st. The exact origins of International Coffee Day is unknown according to the Wikipedia. But an event that was first promoted in Japan in 1983 by the All Japan Coffee Association is one of the first references to it. United States "National Coffee Day" was mentioned publicly as early as 2005.The name "International Coffee Day" was first used by the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in October of 2009.
And we at the office are huge fans. Kurt is a huge Biggby Coffee fan, which is a regional chain of coffee shops that has been in business since 1995. It started in Lancing Michigan, It has spread through Michigan and Northwest Ohio, but even he didn’t realize until we picked this article it was now through out those two states and ten others as far south as Florida, West to Idaho, and East to New Jersey and the Carolinas. He loves their frozen, Mocha Mocha Lattes. Then again they are essential a frozen espresso and chocolate shake.
And of course we're all hooked on local roaster Bea's Blend. They offer quality freshly roasted organic, fair-trade coffee roasted here in Toledo. We won't repeat the nickname we have used in the past to describe it quickly to others, but we can tell you that's because of how addictively good it is. And for a substance that does alter your mood and body chemistry, caffeine, it's as healthy as you can get.
We always have some coffee brewed and waiting at the office for our team and if not, a very kind client bought us a Keurig machine that can brew you an individual cup if you visit. Has a huge collection of coffee mugs, with Kurt having a few of his favorites from a local comic, the West Wing and an internship with a Member of Congress years ago. And a few years ago, Kurt bought himself, Lisa and a vendor that helps us help clients training and job search help to get back to work, matching travel coffee mugs with Chaos Coordinator, because butt kicking, multitasking, problem solving miracle worker isn’t a job title, just a description.
Lisa is a huge McDonald’s coffee fan. She performs many roles for our firm, from Administrator to head paralegal. On top of that she does some work for our landlord in helping him run our and other buildings he owns in the area. She loves to stop and get one loaded up with five creams. Despite loving her McDonald’s coffee, and not being Catholic, she has adopted the practice of giving up something she loves for Lent as it’s her McDonald’s coffee.
But this post really isn’t about our favorite coffees, coffee shops or mugs. As a way to tie into International Coffee Day, and get your attention, we started there. But really we wanted to talk about how the insurance and business lobbies have used panic about certain high profile cases to justify moves to limit what injured people get, to make business more profitable.
Over the years certain widely publicized cases have been used to scare the public and limit what injured and disabled people can get. But that’s what they are generally, scare tactics. And worse still, these limits, called generally tort reform, really haven’t resulted in insurance premiums dropping for doctors, small business owners, home and car owners, etc. And for instance Kurt calls the compromise that created workers’ compensation in Ohio as one of the first tort reforms out there, when explaining what workers and employers got out of the creation of our system.
The most famous scare tactic, justification for these limits is the infamous McDonald’s Coffee Case. Let us tell you some facts of the real story, with a heavy assist from our brothers and sister of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association and an article they published on the subject. Many people have heard that a woman placed a cup of McDonald’s coffee between her legs to add things to it in the car and she suffered so small burns and wanted a fortune for it. From that article, here’s some real facts.
Stella Liebeck, 79 years old, was sitting in the passenger seat of her grandson’s car having purchased a cup of McDonald’s coffee. After the car stopped, she tried to hold the cup securely between her knees while removing the lid. However, the cup tipped over, pouring scalding hot coffee onto her. She received third-degree burns over 16 percent of her body, necessitating hospitalization for eight days, whirlpool treatment for debridement of her wounds, skin grafting, scarring, and disability for more than two years.
Despite these extensive injuries, she offered to settle with McDonald’s for $20,000. However, McDonald’s refused to settle. And made her the greedy scapegoat of public relations offensive and fought her to the bitter end on her case.
When all was said at done at the trial, the jury awarded Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages -- reduced to $160,000 because the jury found her 20 percent at fault -- and $2.7 million in punitive damages for McDonald’s callous conduct. (To put this in perspective, McDonald's revenue from coffee sales alone is in excess of $1.3 million a day.) The trial judge reduced the punitive damages to $480,000. Subsequently, the parties entered a post-verdict settlement.
Now you may ask yourself, how could that out of control jury and judge award her anything let alone that much. Well again, read above, they did reduce everything because yes, yes it really isn’t the brightest move ever to put hot coffee between your legs in car that could be moving any second.
But here are some facts, from Stella’s lawyer, S. Reed Morgan, that the jury heard in the evidence presented at trial:
By corporate specifications, McDonald's sells its coffee at 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit;
Coffee at that temperature, if spilled, causes third-degree burns (the skin is burned away down to the muscle/fatty-tissue layer) in two to seven seconds;
Third-degree burns do not heal without skin grafting, debridement and whirlpool treatments that cost tens of thousands of dollars and result in permanent disfigurement, extreme pain and disability of the victim for many months, and in some cases, years
The chairman of the department of mechanical engineering and bio-mechanical engineering at the University of Texas testified that this risk of harm is unacceptable, as did a widely recognized expert on burns, the editor in chief of the leading scholarly publication in the specialty, the Journal of Burn Care and Rehabilitation;
McDonald's admitted that it has known about the risk of serious burns from its scalding hot coffee for more than 10 years -- the risk was brought to its attention through numerous other claims and suits, to no avail;
From 1982 to 1992, McDonald's coffee burned more than 700 people, many receiving severe burns to the genital area, perineum, inner thighs, and buttocks;
Not only men and women, but also children and infants, have been burned by McDonald's scalding hot coffee, in some instances due to inadvertent spillage by McDonald's employees;
At least one woman had coffee dropped in her lap through the service window, causing third-degree burns to her inner thighs and other sensitive areas, which resulted in disability for years;
Witnesses for McDonald's admitted in court that consumers are unaware of the extent of the risk of serious burns from spilled coffee served at McDonald's required temperature;
McDonald's admitted that it did not warn customers of the nature and extent of this risk and could offer no explanation as to why it did not;
McDonald's witnesses testified that it did not intend to turn down the heat -- As one witness put it: “No, there is no current plan to change the procedure that we're using in that regard right now;”
McDonald's admitted that its coffee is “not fit for consumption” when sold because it causes severe scalds if spilled or drunk;
Liebeck's treating physician testified that her injury was one of the worst scald burns he had ever seen.
Moreover, the Shriner’s Burn Institute in Cincinnati had published warnings to the franchise food industry that its members were unnecessarily causing serious scald burns by serving beverages above 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
In refusing to grant a new trial in the case, Judge Robert Scott called McDonald's behavior “callous.” Moreover, “the day after the verdict, the news media documented that coffee at the McDonald's in Albuquerque [where Liebeck was burned] is now sold at 158 degrees. This will cause third-degree burns in about 60 seconds, rather than in two to seven seconds [so that], the margin of safety has been increased as a direct consequence of this verdict.”
When you hear this little tale of danger to small business, property owners, remember the real facts of this case from witness testimony found credible by a judge and jury of people like you. McDonald’s knew of the dangers of their coffee for 10 years before Stella was hurt. They served it at that temperature to make inferior coffee taste better and make more profits. And in the 10 years leading up to that day, over 700 customers and dozens of employees suffered to that same part of the body as Stella. Why? Because we do sometimes put coffee there to mix in our favorite ingredients. And at those temperatures, it’s impossible to get the coffee off you fast enough to prevent burning.
So, the next time you hear the call of tort reform using this case, or others like it, remember, juries are made up of people like you. Politicians by putting limits on what hurt people can prove they deserve to keep profitable insurance companies, who interestingly tend to give big campaign contributions to their favorites in Columbus and Washington. And those costs go somewhere, usually onto all of us as taxes to pay for Medicare, Medicaid, or in higher medical bills for us due to hospitals and doctors not getting properly paid for their work.
If you ever do get hurt on the job or elsewhere by a defective product or careless person, if at work that can even be you, give us a call. Our attorneys have decades of experience helping workers and the disabled get help. They offer free no cost, obligation initial consultations. And if they don’t handle that kind of case, they know a qualified attorney who does. Call us at 419-244-7885 and let us help guide you to the best outcome in bad situation.
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