Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The McDonald's Myth

This is a particular favorite of mine, but not in a good way. Anyone who has gotten into a layman's conversation about "tort reform" has inevitably encountered the McDonald's story. You know the one right? The one about the woman who won millions of dollars in a lawsuit against McDonald's because she spilled some coffee on herself. Its a favorite story told by those who like to complain about the runaway legal liability cases. Everyone chortles and tsks in response to the story since everyone knows how ridiculous it is to think that this woman deserved any compensation for her clumsiness.

Think Progress has the facts:

FACT: As a result of her injuries, 79 year old Stella Liebeck spent eight days in a hospital. In that time she underwent expensive treatments for third-degree burns including debridement (removal of dead tissue) and skin grafting. The burns left her scarred and disabled for more than two years

FACT: Before a suit was ever filed, Liebeck informed McDonald’s about her injuries and asked for compensation for her medical bills, which totaled almost $11,000. McDonald’s countered by offering her $800.

FACT: The original, $2.7 million award was equal to two days of McDonald’s corporation coffee sales.

FACT: On appeal, a judge lowered the award to $480,000, a fact not widely publicized in the media.

FACT: During trial, McDonald’s admitted that it had known about the risk of serious burns from its coffee for more than 10 years. From 1982 to 1992, McDonald’s received more than 700 reports of burns from scalding coffee; some of the injured were children and infants. Many customers received severe burns to the genital area, perineum, inner thighs and buttocks.

I have no evidence for this, but I am certain that the popularity of this story is due in part to the fact that it is pushed hard by insurance industry propagandists.


BTW, Think Progress is doing a whole series of articles based on the latest Frank Lunz "How To Lie and Win" manual. The "McDonald's Myth" is just the first in the series. My "favorite" so far:

Finally, Luntz advises, 9/11 is the perfect way to dodge responsibility for sinking the country in red ink. In a section headed “Without the context of 9-11, you will be blamed for the deficit,” he points out “supporters are inherently turned off to the idea of fiscal irresponsibility.” The best way to counter that fact? “The trick then is to contextualize the deficit inside of 9/11.”

When will someone confront Luntz on TV about this and ask him why he thinks it is acceptable to use 9/11 to "trick" the voters?


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