The Museum of Hoaxes
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Mencken's fake history of the bathtub, 1917
Stotham, Massachusetts: the town that didn't exist, 1920
Prof. Wingard's Death Ray Hoax, 1876
Man flies by own lung power, 1934
The Diaphote, a television hoax, 1880
Princess Caraboo, servant girl who became a princess, 1817
The Case of the Vanishing Belly Button, 1964
Use your left ear to detect lies
Dead Body of Loch Ness Monster Found, 1972
The Great Wall of China Hoax, 1899
Frivolous (fake) lawsuits
The Lebanon Daily News confesses to coming down with a bad case of the Gullibility Virus. In a recent article they whipped themselves into a state of righteous indignation about a series of frivolous lawsuits. They had read about the lawsuits in an email. (Best part: they titled the article "Sad but true"). A reader later wrote to them:

Austin woman awarded $80,000 for tripping over her own son in store? Fabricated. Los Angeles man trying to steal hubcap gets $74,000 when target vehicle runs over his hand. Never happened. Pennsylvania man gets half a million for being trapped in garage he was trying to burglarize? Bogus. Little Rock man gets $14,500 for being bit by a dog he was shooting with a pellet gun? Hoax. Lancaster woman gets $113,500 for slipping on a soda she threw at her boyfriend? Tell us her name and the lawsuit’s case number. Delaware woman gets $12,500 for injuries while trying to sneak into nightclub? Fiction. Oklahoma lady gets $1.75 million for leaving RV on cruise control while she makes sandwich in back? Balderdash.

The LDN admits to sloppy research, but points out that one of the cases in the email was true, the infamous McDonalds coffee-burn case brought by Stella Liebeck. I'm probably one of the few people who thinks Stella Liebeck had a decent case, because, in my opinion, McDonalds was keeping their coffee too hot. I've had this argument with plenty of people, and no one has ever agreed with me.
Thanks, Joe!
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by The Curator on Thu Jun 11, 2009
Comments (14)
I, too, have long thought that the McDonalds is a bad example of a "frivolous" lawsuit. The poor woman in question got third-degree burns on her vaginal area THROUGH HER CLOTHING--something that people leave out (probably because they don't know about it) when they talk about her case.

No question there are frivolous lawsuits in America but the McDonalds coffee case is not one of them.

Don't feel lonely, Alex. I've had arguments with people over that one, too. It's just kind of become the "meme" of a "bad lawsuit."
Posted by Cranky Media Guy  on  Thu Jun 11, 2009  at  04:34 AM
When I was in law school the lawyer for the woman burned by McDonald's coffee came and spoke to our class. As usual the press (purposefully) only printed about 1/3 of the real story. She was right to sue. That very McDonalds restaurant had burned over 800 people before her. The manager admitted he kept the coffee scalding on purpose. Her genitals MELTED on contact with that coffee!
Posted by Brendan  on  Thu Jun 11, 2009  at  10:00 AM
I'm the other person who thinks the McDonald's Hot Coffee case was not frivolous. Evidence was presented at the trial that many people had previously complained of being scalded by McDonald's coffee, and that there was a corporate policy to keep the coffee as hot as possible in order to discourage customers from asking for seconds (by the time their coffee was cool enough to drink, most of them would have finished their meals). So McDonald's was knowingly and willingly letting customers get burned in order to save maybe 5 cents per person on coffee refills.

Under the circumstances, why shouldn't Mickey D have to pay millions of dollars in punitive and actual damages.
Posted by Big Gary  in  Progreso, Texas  on  Thu Jun 11, 2009  at  10:23 AM
I am SO tired of hearing this case being the poster-child of the frivolous lawsuit ... VERY good to know I'm not the only one who understands how justified it was.
Posted by J J Markin  in  Washington, DC  on  Thu Jun 11, 2009  at  10:59 AM
The best approach to discussing the McDonald's case is to ask the other person what they believe happened, and then point out that pretty much *every* *single* *fact* they "know" is incorrect.

Ms. Leibeck wasn't driving. Her granddaughter was.

The car wasn't moving when the spill occured. The granddaughter had stopped at Ms. Leibeck's request specifically because opening hot coffee in a moving car is hazardous. (This one really makes the hysterical whiners look stupid.)

The injuries were not minor: she suffered third degree burns over nearly 5% of her body, an injury that would have killed her without reconstructive surgery.

McDonald's did not dispute that the lid to the coffee cup was not put on properly, and was the biggest cause of the spill.

McDonald's not only had several hundred claims for similiar injuries, but had *settled* several hundred of them. Their own quality control engineers testified under oath that serving coffee at 180 degrees is dangerous.

The judgement was not for millions of dollars. The jury didn't award a specific amount, nor did Ms. Leibeck ask for a specific amount. She asked for, and was granted "one day's profits that McDonald's makes from coffee." This amounted to over a million dollars.

The punitive damages were *automatically* reduced to three times the actual damages, a little over $100,000, IIRC, by law in the state in which the lawsuit took place. (This is something the hysterical whiners say should be made law. It already is in most states.)

The jury assigned 20% responsibility to Ms. Leibeck, and the judgement was automatically reduced by that amount.

McDonald's biggest mistake was allowing their corporate execs in to the court room with an attitude of "We're McDonald's, the law doesn't apply to us." Never piss off the jury.

People who whine about this are so committed to the idea that it was all the woman's fault, that you could literally show them a video of an employee throwing flaming gasoline on her through the drive-through window, and they'd still blame her. It's a form of mental illness.
Posted by Terry Austin  on  Thu Jun 11, 2009  at  12:23 PM
This one gets me going. She was at least partially responsible - she held the HOT coffee with her knees! HOT coffee squeezed between your knees is NOT a good idea! Yes, plenty of people have been burned by hot coffee - and plenty more have complained that the coffee was not hot enough. And the only evidence that the driver pulled over is their word (I could be wrong, its been a while since I looked into it). Do I feel bad for her? Of course. Do I think she needed to be compensated? Naturally. But she also needed to take some of the responsibility for the burn - more than 20% IMHO. Rant over, sorry.
Posted by Captain Stealth  on  Thu Jun 11, 2009  at  12:39 PM
When I tell people the truth about Liebeck, the thing that makes them change their minds about it is the fact that so many people were burned before her.
Posted by Chakolate  on  Thu Jun 11, 2009  at  01:29 PM
The bottom line in the McDonalds case was that McDonalds admitted guilt in previous cases then tried to change their story in court.

Captain Stealth has a point for actions outside the courtroom but McDonalds absolved her of any legal responsibility. Say what you want about Big Tobacco but they don't even have the political clout to pull this off.
Posted by Mark  in  Cincinnati  on  Thu Jun 11, 2009  at  01:42 PM
Are there any areas of medical research you think are frivolous? Things you think are unethical, and shouldn't be pursued anymore? (Besides vanity-driven plastic surgery!
Posted by Streaming christmas music  on  Thu Jun 11, 2009  at  04:54 PM
Captain Stealth, do you realize the extent of her injuries? Are you familiar with what a 3rd degree burn is? That is a full tissue depth burn, injuring nerves, blood vessels and all the structures found many many layers under the skin.

The last time you spilled coffee on yourself, you expected a slight red area, maybe. At the worse maybe a little bubbling of the skin if it was absolutely scalding hot and made direct contact to your skin immediately.

They were using their commercial machinery to make this coffee so hot it could cause THIRD degree burns minutes after being dispensed. That is completely unexpected and impossible in a house coffee maker. They KNEW they had the coffee that hot and were severly injuring people... paying them off.

She can take full responsibilty for the spill, but the damage from the coffee was sue-worthy. Imagine if there was a certain brand of 60w light bulb that would take off your hand like a small grenade if it broke. Your fault you broke the bulb, but would you have expected that kind of damage to your body?
Posted by DubyaD  on  Fri Jun 12, 2009  at  02:49 AM
The McDonald's coffee lawsuit was in no way frivolous. We are a pretty gullible nation when it comes to corporate PR.
Posted by floormaster squeeze  on  Fri Jun 12, 2009  at  08:56 AM
I had this argument with my husband (over the hot coffee lawsuit). I posted a lengthy defense of the woman on my blog, and after he read it he tried telling me that it was a stupid lawsuit, that she shouldn't have won.

I won the argument in the end smile
Posted by LinzeeBinzee  in  Winnipeg  on  Tue Jun 16, 2009  at  01:24 PM
These remind me of a case here in New Zealand, several years ago, where a man received compensation (we don't sue for damages here) after breaking his leg while trying to escape from prison.
Posted by Dale  in  Waiheke  on  Sat Jun 27, 2009  at  09:49 PM
As a Brit I am in an even smaller minority who are sympathetic to the case.

Sadly everyone has an opinion on this without reading the facts. It shows how hoaxes have their running shoes well before the truth has woken up. It also shows how preconceptions (biases) open the doors to that which you want to hear (confirmation bias).

From a US law school summary:

Liebeck sought to settle for $20,000, but McDonald's refused.

McDonald's had documents showing 700 incidents (some with 3rd degree burns) thus proving McDonald's knowledge about the extent
and nature of this hazard.

McDonald's asserted that customers buy coffee on their way to work or home, intending to consume it there. However, the company's own (documented) research showed that customers intend to consume the coffee immediately while driving.

The jury awarded Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages. This amount was reduced to $160,000 because the jury found Liebeck 20 percent at fault in the spill.

The jury also awarded Liebeck $2.7 million in punitive damages, which equals about two days of McDonald's coffee sales.

Post-verdict investigation found that the temperature of coffee at the local
McDonald's had dropped to 158 deg F.

The trial court subsequently reduced the punitive award to $480,000 - even though the judge called McDonald's conduct reckless, callous and
willful.

Facts heh, get you every time.
Posted by RobG  in  Manchester, UK  on  Fri Aug 21, 2009  at  09:53 AM
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