Hot Coffee, reheated

After last week’s post on The Hot Coffee Case I received the following message by email: Unfortunately, in the process of seeking to debunk an urban legend, you repeated several urban legends promulgated by the plaintiffs’ bar. The sender (not a student) included a link to a blog titled “Overlawyered,” dedicated to “chronicling the high cost of our legal system.” The linked page, titled “Urban Legends and Stella Lieback and the McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case,” states at the start of the second paragraph “The case is ludicrous on its face, as a matter of law and as a matter of common sense.” It goes on to dispute contentions made by various commentators about the Liebeck case.

This case is the third rail of the American tort system, and I’m not interested in declaring either partisan camp to be the victor. The core of my post consists of five bulleted factual statements and a description of the issue as presented to the jury which, save for one, the Overlawyered site does not dispute. I stated that the coffee that burned Lieback was over 180 degrees; Overlawyered states that it was 170 degrees. I base my statement about its temperature on articles written about the Lieback trial. For example: “Before trial, McDonald’s gave the opposing lawyer its operations and training manual, which says its coffee must be brewed at 195 to 205 degrees and held at 180 to 190 degrees for optimal taste.” Andrea Gerlin, McDonald’s Callousness Was Real Issue, Jurors Say, In Case of Burned Woman, The Wall Street Journal, Sep-01-94. I don’t see Overlawyered’s source for its statement that the coffee’s temperature was 170 degrees either in the post linked above or the three other Overlawyer posts its mentions. I stated “I’m not suggesting that these facts end the discussion, or that they can only be construed to support McDonalds’ liability.” I guess the “urban legend promulgated by the plaintiff’s bar” the email accuses me of repeating is that there is another side to the story than that perpetuated by the bogus “Stella Awards.”

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