There are two major lawsuits which the main populace has defined as frivolous. One of those cases is the McDonald’s split coffee case. This is the case where the plaintiff spilled her coffee and was rumored to sue McDonald’s for 2.7 million dollars and win. The other’s case is the Pearson dry cleaning case where a man sued Chung Dry Cleaner’s 54 million dollars for losing his pants. The plaintiff won in the McDonald’s Case and the Plaintiff lost in the Dry clearance’s case. In this paper we are going to dissect each case by the facts, the law, the issues, the ethical issues, the defendants preventative measures, and then the analysis of it all.
Frivolous lawsuits have over taken our society by storm. Anywhere from someone suing over a pair of lost pants to a person suing over a coffee burn. But what is Frivalous? Perhaps there is more to see in each of these suits that was originally thought. In 1992 79-year-old Stella Liebeck spilled coffee on herself and sued McDonald’s for the coffee being too hot. In May 2005 Judge Roy Pearson sued Custom Cleaners for losing a pair of his pants. On paper both of the lawsuits look ridiculous and should be dismissed as soon as the titles are read. But when looking into the details one discovers propaganda hugely blown out of proportion on one case and the other being exactly what it looks like.
What are the Facts?
Factual evidence is what gives a case its meat, its substance, so without worthy facts it is very easy for a case to lose any of its stimuli. On the other hand sometimes the facts of a case with swift ones initial opinion in a complete 180. The Pant’s Suit and the McDonald’s Coffee Suit both have information to back the claim, however, only one can truly be deemed as proof. In My 2005 District of Columbia Administrative Law Judge Roy. L. Pearson claimed Custom Cleaners lost his pants. Judge Pearson said he
“dropped off blue Saks Fifth Avenue suit pants with burgundy pinstripes at Custom Cleaners for $10.50 alteration and that the gray, cuffed pants they tried to return to him were not his (Andrea, 2007).” Pearson then proceeded to request Custom Cleaners, owned by the So Jin and Sooo Chung, pay him over $1,000 for a new suit. The Chungs refused and Pearson proceeded with a lawsuit asking for 65 million dollars. Before the suit went to trial the Chung’s tried to settle, offering Pearson up to 12,000 dollars but Pearson refused and instead lowered his suit to 54 million dollars (O’Rourke, 2007). The suit then proceeded to the court.
Stella Liebeck was burned by coffee going through a McDonald’s drive-through. Her grandson, Chris Tiano, stopped the car in the drive through so she could put cream and sugar in the coffee. Ms. Liebeck placed the coffee between her legs, and when she pulled the top off the coffee it spilled on her (Press & Carroll, 1995). She suffered severe third degree burn injuries to her buttocks, groin, and inner thighs. She was hospitalized for eight days because of the severity and had to receive multiple skin grafting procedures. Ms. Liebeck was disabled for two years due to her injuries. McDonald’s had 700 previous customer burning cases prior to Ms. Liebeck’s case, and the company decided to keep their coffee temperature at 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Prior to going the lawsuit path, Ms., Liebeck originally requested McDonald’s settle for injury costs; however, the company offered her $800 instead. Ms. Liebeck did not receive 2.7 Million Dollars as most assume, instead she received a total of $640,000 included the complementary damages and the punitive damages (Litant, 1995). When laying out the facts of the “McDonald’s Coffee Case” as most call it, one is shocked to find themselves on Ms. Liebeck’s metaphorical side of the matter rather than McDonald’s. One must always review the facts to have any true understanding on the matter.
After reviewing the facts given by the Pant’s Suit and the McDonald’s Coffee case, a person can identify what suit is missing necessary information. In the Pant’s Suit Pearson has no proof that Customer Cleaners lost his pants, it is all alleged. He could have forgotten them at his house or lost them himself, there is not any way to prove Custom Cleaner’s even lost his pants. But in the McDonald’s case it is easy to see the facts because they are all in statistics, in photographs, the facts are all in the evidence. One case is already losing it’s steam while another is gaining momentum, lets move on.
What are the Issues?
An issue is why a case is even occurring. One issue is burns from an overly hot cup of coffee. The other issue is emotional distress and financial loss due to a pair of missing pants. There may be isssues though that grow from these or are the issues really that simple? In the missing pants case, the issue is Judge Pearson’s pants were allegedly misplaced by Custom Cleaners. So how is it a pair of missing pants led to a suit battle that lasted over two years? There must have been other issues involved. First lets assess the facts we received, the pair of pants Custom Cleaners gave Mr. Pearson he claimed were not his, but they were his size and matched the alteration specification requested (Goldwasser, 2007). Other issues that grew from the case was the loss of business and harassment the Chung’s received due to Mr. Pearson’s harassment. Mr. Pearson would regularly go door to door in the neighborhood asking the community in which Custom Cleaners was centered for his support in the case against him.
The Chung’s had to eventually close down the store. The issue that started this entire fiasco was a pair of missing pants, which ended up leading Judge Pearson not being re-appointed and a Custom Cleaners being shut down. After the suit Judge Pearson received a letter from the Commission on Selection and Tenure Administrative Law Judges they elected not to re-appoint him as judge and cited his pour performance as a judge and the Pants suit (Cauvin, 2007). The issues are simple to spell out for Ms. Stella Liebeck’s case. The issue, which brings about the other issues, is the plaintiff, Ms. Liebeck, received third degree burns when Mc. Donald’s coffee was spilt on her lap. The plaintiff requested the defendant pay for medical bills and work loss, the defendant refused and offered a minimal sum, which would not even cover attorney costs.
The defendant does not want to lower temperature they keep their coffee at as it would lower the “optimum taste” of the product. The plaintiff was partially at fault for spilling the coffee; however, experts said if the coffee was not that hot then the injuries would never of occurred regardless of who spilled the coffee. Subsequently the issues are but they aren’t that simple. From one issue can spur another and that is the case for both lawsuits. Ms. Liebeck was severely burned by McDonald’s coffee and requested an accurate amount for her injuries, they refused, and it went to court causing the issue of monetary loss and embarrassment for McDonald’s. The issue that grew from the Pearson case was the business loss the Chung’s received. In both cases the defendants each ended up having an issue of their own.
What Law Applies?
Law’s can be manipulated and misinterpreted easily. There is even a branch of the government solely dedicated to translating the constitution accurately and ethically. In both cases there are law’s that come about, but in one case it is clear the law was perversely utilized. In the Custom Cleaner’s case the suit stated Judge Pearson was, “ defrauded by the owners of Custom Cleaners and by the ‘Satisfaction Guaranteed’ sign they had (Cauvin, 2007). He also sued for emotional distress and legal costs (O’Rourke, 2007). Under Tort Law Pearson could be under Negligent Tort for damages, if he illustrates actual damages. Judge Pearson chose to sue under Intentional Torts, more specifically under Emotional Distress. The problem most defendants have come to is that emotional distress is ambiguous. Anyone can claim emotional distress for everyone is different with his or her tolerances.
The most intriguing aspect in this case, is that the Chung’s never sued Pearson for defacement. The Chung’s had proof, witnesses, everything they needed for a successful trial. So under law the Plaintiff stretched manipulated the law definitions with very little proof for a lawsuit and the defendant did not even attempt to gain retribution. In the case of Stell Liebeck vs. McDonald’s several torn law come into the play. The definition of a tort law is “an injury to another’s person or property.” In this case there were severe damages done to the plaintiff according to the facts. There are there separate types of torn cases, compensatory nominal, and punitive. Ms. Liebeck’s case fit under compensatory and punitive. Compensatory for the injuries she received to include the special damages of doctor bills.
She also is covered under punitive damages for the company was fully aware of how hazardous their product was and still refused to change the temperature of their coffee. Also Ms. Liebeck is covered under the ‘Cause-in-Fact’ of negligent Tort, since McDonald’s never went forward with any preventative measures.
Her esquire Mr. Reed Morgan noted three specific charges against McDonald’s; the first being their product was unduly hazardous due to its temperature; the second being McDonald’s failed to give its consumers the necessary warnings of the temperature; the third being the consumers could not drink the coffee at the time it was served;
therefore there was breach of warranty (Press & Carroll, 1995). Mr. Morgan had the option of using a plethora of Tort law’s on behalf of his client Ms. Liebeck, and he took full advantage of that fact like any attorney would do for their case and client. In the McDonald’s case the law was not overly used, because the ones they referenced were enough for their case to be heard and be successful. But the Pearson case was another matter, the plaintiff was clearly stretching the law to try and manipulate it for his own base needs.
What did the judge/jury decide?
The McDonald’s case was a jury trial and the Pants case was a judge trial. Both cases were caught up in the legal battle for over two years. When the pants case finally made it to trial the case was dismissed in two days. The McDonald’s case did take a little longer for there was a lot of evidence for them to go through and there were multiple decision makers rather than just one. The Judge in the pants case held the decision not the jury. D.C. Superior Court Judge Judith Bartnoff found for the defendant on all counts. Judge Bartnoff denied any damage costs to the Plaintiff and ordered Pearson to pay the defendants court costs (Cleaners 1, Judge 0 in case of missing pants, 2007). Usually when one is in the judgment of ‘one of their own’ they find on behalf of their own. However it was clear Judge Bartnoff saw the absurdity of Pearson’s claim when she found in behalf of the defendants.
In the case of the spilled coffee most of the jury had a 180 from their original inclinations of the case. Going into the case Jury member Roxanne Bell said, “she was insulted…the whole thing sounded ridiculous to me.” After the Jury heard testimony from three witnesses their opinions of the case started to alter. The first expert witness was Doctor Charles Baxter who spoke to the grotesque photographs of Ms. Liebecks’s injury and “testified that coffee at 170 degrees would cause second –degree burns within 3.5 seconds of hitting the skin (Press & Carroll, 1995).” And since McDonald’s kept their coffee at 190 degrees it is safe to say, It was extremely easy for Ms. Liebeck to get third degree burns.
The other two witnesses were actually defendant witnesses, the first was a quality-assurance supervisor at McDonald’s, and the second was a safety consultant. The first witness was Mr. Christopher Apleton who testified that even though McDonald’s had received over 700 coffee burn complaints in 10 years the company refused to lower their temperatures. The second defendant witness was Mr. Robert Knaff, who’s main problem was he contradicted himself in the middle of his testimony. As first he was tring to describe that 700 burn complaints in ten years amounted to only one in twenty-four million coffee cups, but then he later said in his testimony, “a burn is a very terrible thing (Press & Carroll, 1995).” By saying a burn was a terrible thing, then it was no longer a trivial matter. At the end of the case Ms. Bell defended the jury’s decision by exclaiming, “ it was our way of saying, ‘Hey, open your eyes. People are getting burned’ (Press & Carroll, 1995).”
The Jury decided to teach McDonald’s a lesson for the over all negligence they displayed in their refusal to acknowledge the multiple previous warning they had received regarding the hotness of their coffee. The Jury awardee Ms. Liebeck a total of $2.7 million dollars in punitive damages, which at that time, is the amount of money McDonald’s would make in a two-day span. The jury was overzealous on Ms. Liebeck’s behalf for they wanted to reform and punish McDonald’s so the judge had to step in Where as in the Pants suit the judge quickly ‘put down the hammer’ on Judge Pearson.
Did the judge or jury make an appropriate decision based on the applicable law controlling the cases? Why or Why not? The judge and jury both made the appropriate decisions in the verdict award, but no the appropriate decision on the fiscal award. In the case of the missing pants the judge appropriately awarded the fiscal and the verdict. The in McDonald’s case the jury appropriately awarded the verdict but inappropriately awarded the fiscal amount. Judge Judith Bartnoff made the appropriate decision according the appropriate definition of tort law in the missing pants case. In interpreting the law one must as a judge throw out the absurd cases but still justly review it. In her review of the missing pants case it was clear Mr. Pearson was unduly persecuting the Chungs over a pair of pants. Mr. Pearson did not have work loss because Custom Cleaners allegedly misplaced a pair of pants, and he was not harmed in any way.
In the McDonald’s case the jury made the correct decision in awarding the suit to Ms. Liebeck, but they made in the incorrect decision in obnoxious amount they chose to grant. Instead of awarding Ms. Liebeck the amount she was due, the jury decided to take a matter for McDonald’s company policy into their own hands to try and reform by ‘punishing’ the company so much they would have no choice but to lower the temperature of their coffee from 190 degrees Fahrenheit. The judge was correct in overturning the jury’s decision from awarding Ms. Liebeck 2.7 million in punitive damages to $480 in punitive damages. The judge recognized the jury was correct in deciding the defendant was guilty, but they were overzealous in their need to reform McDonald’s company policy. Overall the verdict for both cases was fairly awarded.
What are the ethical issues in the cases? Do the ethical issues differ from the legal issues? If so How? There are ethical issues easily seen in both the Pearson and the Liebeck cases. In one case the Plaintiff was unethical and I the other case the defendant was unethical. In the Pearson case the ethical issues and the legal issues do not appropriately correspond. It was unethical for Mr. Pearson to be allowed a lawsuit of $54 million dollars for a pair of pants, but he was legally allowed. It was unethical for Mr. Pearson to deface Custom Cleaners by putting up signs in that community against them, but he was legally allowed to. It was unethical for Mr. Pearson to demand Custom Cleaners, at the time of the incident, over $1000 for a new suit, but he was legally allowed to. Many people do not take manipulate and take advantage of the freedoms the United States allows its citizens, but there are those who will not only take advantage but make others look on in disgust for why he was allowed to do what he did. There are multiple ethical issues in the Liebeck case.
The main one being responsibility. It is the responsibility of the company to listen to its consumers and McDonald’s failed to do so on multiple occasions. The other is knowingly harming other, McDonald’s knew there coffee had caused severe burns on other customers in the past but had refused to do anything about it, even when they were approached by the National Burn Victims Association to do so (Howard, 1994). In this case the ethical issues do not differ from the legal issues as each ethical issue directly corresponds with a broken law by McDonald’s. there are major ethical issues by the press, congress, and other entities continuing to further there own agenda by only giving half truths concerning Ms. Liebeck’s case. There has been a significant push by Tort reformers due to the jury decision made in Ms. Liebeck’s case, but those are using severe propaganda to do so.
Both of these cases have been described as “frivolous” lawsuits. Based on your research what do you think? Is either one or both of these cases frivolous?
Based on the research given, the Pants Suit case was a frivolous suit. A frivolous case is considered to be absurd, unneeded, and previously thought impossible. Judge Roy Pearson, a legal professional, most likely originally thought he could use the scare tactic with Customer Cleaners for the initial $1000 ask because of his power position. Instead when the defendant refused to pay that sum, the plaintiff lost his temper and in doing so lost his professional mind. The Plaintiff was not hurt, and he did not have any significant financial loss due to the initial incident.
On paper Ms. Liebeck’s case looks frivolous; however, after examining the facts in no longer appears to be so. A woman did spill coffee on herself and did get burned, but she was severely burned from the hazardous temperatures McDonald’s kept there coffee of hat was not fit for human consumption. The amount the jury awarded her it what most of society deems obnoxious, bringing the classification of her lawsuit to frivolous in nature. When just looking at the injuries Ms. Liebeck received from the coffee temperature, one could never deem it a frivolous lawsuit, but there are those who will seek to capitalize on a lawsuit such as this by exclaiming half-truths in order to further their own agendas.
Regardless of what you think of the lawsuits, how could the business owners have prevented them? What advice can you give them for the future?
When digging into the details of the case a very simple business practice alteration could have prevented the entire debacle in the missing pants case. Currently the Chungs have a ticketing system where they place the ticket number and article size on the clothing. However if they added to that ticket and item description the debacle could have been avoided. In doing this the customer is helped and so is the company.
It was rather obvious when looking through the facts of the McDonald’s case how the company could have prevented their lawsuit, That is one of the main reason’s they lost the case, is because due to their sever negligence in ignoring their consumer complaints, the jury was abhorred by the company. Very simply put McDonald’s once receiving the first customer complaint should have completed testing to see what would keep their coffee at a great taste with a less hazardous temperature. Similar to other institutes had done at the advice of the Shriner’s Burn Institute lowering their temperature to 135 to 140 degrees (Litant, 1995). In the future, some advice McDonald’s should take is to listen to their customers, if there are several complaints regarding one item, then the item either needs to be altered or discontinued.
Courtney from Study Moose
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