So, you think you know the story about the woman who went to McDonalds for coffee, spilled it on herself and sued, eh?  Sure, you heard about it, maybe you even saw the parody on an episode of Seinfeld, but I’ll bet you a cup of coffee that you have no idea of the whole story.


Indeed, I’ll bet you didn’t know that:


  • That coffee wasn’t just hot, it was scalding.  McDonalds mandated temperature spec for its coffee at that time was between 180 and 190 degrees, Fahrenheit.
  • Ms. Liebeck suffered almost immediate third-degree burns on her thighs and buttocks, which required multiple skin grafts to correct.
  • Before this incident, McDonalds had been cited for over 700 other separate incidents of hot coffee burning other customers.
  • Originally, Ms. Liebeck had only asked McDonalds to cover the costs of her corrective surgery.  McDonalds answered with an offered payment of $800.


Stella Liebeck’s story is the first of four relating to the issue of tort reform and corporate manipulation of the civil justice system in Susan Saladoff’s documentary, “Hot Coffee.”  In addition, Ms. Saladoff deals with:


  • Colin Gourley, a 16-year-old born with severe brain injury resulting from medical malpractice during the delivery of him and his twin brother.  Adding insult to injury, Nebraska’s jury cap legislation reduced the $5.65 million jury award to $1.25 million, requiring the Gourley family to go on Medicaid to care for their son.
  • Oliver Diaz, a judge on Mississippi’s supreme court, who was targeted by Karl Rove and a well-financed campaign to discredit Diaz in his run for reelection to his seat on the court … because Diaz is opposed to tort reform.
  • Jamie Leigh Jones, a KBR / Halliburton employee who, when she was sent to Iraq, was billeted in a mostly male dormitory, rather than quarters for women, and subsequently drugged and raped.  When she attempted to gain justice, she learned that she had signed her rights to a jury trial away to private arbitration, the arbitrator to be assigned by Halliburton.


So you think this can’t happen to you?  If you have a credit card or own a cell phone, it already HAS … as it comes to private arbitration.  Check the fine print on your contract (if you didn’t throw it away as most people do) and note: if you have a problem serious to require judicial action, you are officially out of luck.


That said, you might be interested in seeing Susan Saladoff’s “Hot Coffee.”  It’s currently showing on HBO … though you might want something stronger than coffee to drink as you watch it.

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Comment by Loren Miller on November 7, 2011 at 6:50pm
Actually, yes, they did, Steph - all of 10 degrees, Fahrenheit - so now it's 170-180 degrees, rather than 180-190!

[Like THAT's going to make it that much safer?!?]
Comment by George on July 11, 2011 at 1:21am
Interview with director Susan Saladoff on NPR's On the Media.

"...filmmaker Susan Saladoff shows how the media got the story all wrong, and often demonizes civil litigation, using phrases like “frivolous lawsuit” and “jackpot justice.” She says the distortion of civil cases is part of a big PR push to discourage people from suing big business."
Comment by Micah Oliver on June 29, 2011 at 4:36am

The wife an I watched Hot Coffee last night. A VERY good documentary. I have to admit, I was of the same mind as all the people at the beginning. 'We live in a litigious society.' 'Frivolous law suits should be stopped at all costs.' etc


I've changed my mind.

Comment by Loren Miller on June 28, 2011 at 4:51pm

Well, being that "Hot Coffee" was just released on HBO this past Monday ... no, I wouldn't expect it to be available on Netflix JUST yet!

HOWEVER ... HBO IS pretty good about releasing its stuff to DVD in a fairly timely manner, so, I figure, give it four to five months, then have a look.

Comment by George on June 28, 2011 at 4:49pm



Comment by George on June 28, 2011 at 4:32pm
The documentary sounds interesting. I see it's not available on Netflix yet, but it can be saved for later.

IMDB description:
Comment by Earther on June 28, 2011 at 8:03am
Good Blog, seems like it should be on my Civil Rights discussion group :)  It's all about mutual respect.  When it comes to equallity in social justices we depend a monitary value if we are damaged in anyway.  If our government was already socially sensitive to personal health and equal compensation most of us would be less likely to feel the need to use the courts.  Remember our government is us and everything we vote for or support.  There are ways to work with Tort by looking at percentages and law and order of how companies operate.  What I mean by percentages is what is the long term affects of your injury to the capacity that you can be helped.  Some of us are over compensated, some of us are justly compensated and some of us are neglected.  Now out of those three outcomes what is the percentage of each outcome?  How many of us are able to find that happy medium?  Is there enough help from our society to get us through?  I know a lot of us hear on Atheist Nexus may blame religion on our downfall of our civilized nation, me being one of them :)  Republicans may want to have tort reform to lesson the amounts paid to victims and Democrats may want to have tort reform to increase the amounts paid to victims yet in the end Republicans and Democrats are no different because both are happy to pick up a big check from litagation and hospitolization, and oh yeah, taxes.  So do we do the all time favorite and drink ourselves silly or throw a fit, pull the emergency exit and leave?  Most of us should just take a breath and try to stay calm and seek to move forward the best way we can.  This feels alot like being rejected by a hot woman without the pleasure of the female.  Men feel like dick heads and women feel like empty holes.  Pardon the grossness of my analogy.  I think I will fix my self a good cup of joe. 



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