Hot Coffee

Topics: Tort, Tort reform, Supreme Court of the United States Pages: 5 (2274 words) Published: May 15, 2014


Hot Coffee
The movie was split into four different exhibits (or topics basically). Each exhibit was centered on a case that was heavily influenced by that specific tort reform issue. The four exhibits were as follows: 1. The Public Relations Campaign

2. Caps on Damages
3. Judicial Elections
4. Mandatory Arbitration
The first exhibit was centered on public relations and featured the case that gave the movie its name, the Stella Liebeck v. McDonalds case in New Mexico. The information presented on this case was astonishing. After listening to the “real” details of what happened to Mrs. Liebeck, I felt like a complete dummy. There was a section of this exhibit in which they were interviewing random people on the street to see what they knew about the infamous case. The most common response was that a lady had spilled hot coffee on her lap and decided to sue for millions. I would’ve answered the same way. It is very true that as a general population, we tend to believe everything we see in the media. However, the media is such an untrustworthy source. Mrs. Liebeck was an older woman at the time of the incident and didn’t just pour the coffee on her lap. The fact that she wasn’t even driving at the time, just simply fixing her coffee with cream and sugar, made a big difference in the understanding of the case. Seeing the actual images of her burns was a big eye-opener to the severity of the incident. They were gruesome! It wasn’t just “hot coffee,” it was scalding and burned her to the point of needing serious medical attention! The movie went on to talk about how the trial against McDonalds uncovered about 700 other coffee burn incidents that just never made it to court. To me, this meant that McDonalds had received complaints about all of these victims and just didn’t care enough to do anything about it. The franchise manual stated the holding temperature for coffee (back then) between 180-190 degrees! I found it surprising that McDonalds only offered Mrs. Liebeck $800 initially before going to court. Once in court, McDonalds was found guilty of negligence and was forced to pay both compensatory and punitive damages. Mrs. Liebeck was awarded $160,000 in compensatory damages and $2.7 million (before being settled confidentially between both parties) in punitive damages. I believe that the punitive damages were deserved because of the high level of negligence from McDonalds. However, I personally don’t believe that Mrs. Liebeck needed that large of an amount. It is an unrealistic thought I know, but I think that the punitive damages should’ve been able to be split up between all 700 previous burn victims that were recorded. From a different perspective however, Mrs. Liebeck was the only victim that fought her way to make her case in court so therefore she did the “hard work” to get that money. The second exhibit really spoke to me. It dealt with caps on damages brought to court. The case that was associated with it was the Colin Gourley case. Colin is an identical twin that was born with severe brain damage in Nebraska. Unfortunately, children are born with birth defects and complications all over the world. It is very sad, but most of the time there is no way to prevent such a thing. In Colin’s case though, there was a way to prevent the devastating outcome. Colin’s mother told the story of how it all started. She said that around her 36th week of pregnancy she started feeling a noticeable decrease in the amount of movement of the babies. Naturally she became concerned and went to see her doctor. Her doctor did a quick checkup and didn’t perform any extra tests to make sure her conclusion was correct, but yet told Mrs., Gourley that the twins were fine and their heartbeats sounded normal. As the days went by, the babies’ movement kept decreasing. Mrs. Gourley knew something had to be wrong so she went in for an ultrasound. Once there, she was told that the twins were in one placenta instead of two individual...
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