Bloggers Fight Lawsuit Abuse

Overlawyered.com writes daily about lawsuit abuse like the infamous McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit. Today they are reporting that bloggers have stepped up to the plate to fight worthless class-action lawsuits. Why should lawyers make $2.5 million while the “injured consumers” get worthless coupons? I hope the lawyers lose every penny.

(Charles Burck, “Bloggers Challenge a Class-Action Settlement”, Corporate Board Member Magazine, March/April 2006). One might hope. The opponents of the settlement cite two problems with the settlement: 1) Only the lawyers got cash, and 2) the coupons Netflix is sending to customers are really a low-cost marketing program for them, like locking you into a magazine subscription with a free first month, and doesn’t really punish Netflix or compensate customers at all. So, either there was no harm, and the suit was a big frivolous mess, or there was harm to customers, in which case the settlement utterly failed to redress it.

The objection hearing is scheduled for tomorrow. Read the details on the Netflix objection here.

Advertisements

13 thoughts on “Bloggers Fight Lawsuit Abuse

  1. I’m all about fighting worthless lawsuits. But you do realize the “hot coffee lawsuit” wasn’t in the least frivolous, right? That was just a spin job by McD’s so people wouldn’t realize how truly negligent they were.

    Like

  2. Most defenders of Stella Liebeck claim that McDonald’s served coffee that was hotter than the industry standard 140°F or that there were 700 previous complaints, when in fact there is no “industry standard” and that 700 complaints out of tens of billions served would statistically indicate very safe coffee. The underlying problem with the lawsuit is that Ms Liebeck was injured because she spilled coffee on herself, even though McDonald’s served hot coffee properly insulated.

    For every 24 million cups of coffee McDonald’s sells, 1 complaint is generated. Out of 24 million people, 30 will be struck by lightning. The suit should have been thrown out on a statistical basis.

    Overlawyered.com, run by lawyers who fight against lawsuit abuse, points out the fundamental flaws in the McDonald’s coffee case:

    1) a product that, through open and obvious consequences, injures one in 24 million people is not “unreasonably dangerous”;
    2) the fact that billions of cups of McDonald’s coffee are sold should be per se proof that it was serving its coffee at a temperature that consumers desired, rather than “too hot.” No one was forced to buy the hotter McDonald’s coffee instead of the lukewarm coffee supposedly served elsewhere; if McDonald’s coffee was really undesireably “too hot,” it would be punished in the marketplace for this flaw. Instead, there is public policy by jury, and the millions of customers who, for whatever reason, prefer McDonald’s coffee, are out in the cold;
    3) a defendant who is not the proximate cause of an injury should not be held liable for that injury;
    4) there is no principled construction of tort law that holds McDonald’s liable for failing to prevent injury in the case of a foreseeable coffee spill, but not a clothing manufacturer for failing to prevent injury in the case of a foreseeable coffee spill, and one can agree that the latter scenario is an absurd proposition for liability;
    5) a defendant should not be subject to punitive damages because the jury did not understand that “statistically insignificant” is a technical statistical term, and not an insult; and
    6) punitive damages were assessed against McDonald’s based on their coffee sales, which is a punishment for selling a lot of coffee, rather than because of their behavior.

    If I hold an apple in one hand and try to cut it with a knife but slip and cut my finger, is the knife manufacturer liable for my injuries? Was the knife unreasonably sharp? Would a safety label have prevented my injury? Would the fact that other people had cut themselves, too, lend credence to a lawsuit against the knife company?

    I don’t believe McDonald’s was negligent, and I’ve not read any “spin” by them. I’ve read posts from knowledgeable lawyers on the subject of tort reform that point out the flaws with the lawsuit.

    Like

  3. If someone serves me something that is intended for immediate ingestion, it shouldn’t be hot enough to burn me. Not “Owie! That hurt!” burn, but required-hospitalization-and-skin-grafts burn.

    It doesn’t matter how many cups of coffee didn’t burn someone. THAT cup of coffee seriously injured someone, and McDonald’s was negligent to serve it. Yes, Stella Liebeck spilled it; that’s why our system has contributory negligence, and why it was factored into the jury’s decision.

    Stella Liebeck did not ask for millions of dollars; that was the jury’s idea and in fact those damages were reduced. The award may have been frivolous, but the suit was not.

    And I have to wonder about the logic of any source who claims that Starbucks grew to a national chain BECAUSE it serves it’s coffee hotter than McDonald’s does. I’m sure that’s exactly why Starbuck’s is so popular. 🙄

    Like

  4. Your first point was opposition to the hot coffee lawsuit was based on a “spin job” by a corporation. I’m assuming you’re no longer making that assertion. You also didn’t address the fundamental flaws with the lawsuit listed above, without which the company must be held harmless unless the product was both defective and the corporation knew it would injure somebody when used correctly.

    By your logic, every knife company is liable for millions of dollars unless they dull their blades and write, “caution: blade may be sharp” on it. The actual dollar amount would be based on the number of knives sold and not the minor injuries suffered.

    One could possible make the argument that the cup was defective and failed to insulate against burns, but that wasn’t the lawsuit that was filed. McDonald’s was basically held liable because they have a lot of money.

    Like

  5. Jo,

    Please stay out of any of my buildings.

    I am liable for faulty design for period of ten years, since I last visited the building (based on court rulings). Read that again. If I visit Mike’s kitchen tomorrow, then the ten year clock starts anew.

    Mike, please keep your kitchen floors clean and not slippery.

    This is ridiculous. For a small firm such as us, with no suits against us, our professional liability insurance runs as high as 2.6% of revenues. For structural engineers, it runs about 6%. Add general liability, and property and its 2.9%. To us, this amount represents the difference between profit and loss for the year. Try lugging that load.

    Like

  6. Mike, I haven’t changed any of my assertions; why do you assume I have? And no, by my logic knife companies are not liable if someone cuts themselves with a knife, because the purpose of a knife is to cut things. The purpose of coffee is not to burn things. That’s the point of law that the site you referenced managed to leave out of their discussion, and the point of law upon which the McDonald’s case pivoted.

    Also, not sure why you’re bringing up the amount awarded again, since the amount awarded by the jury was immediately reduced. I’ve already acknowledged that amount was excessive; the amount also has nothing to do with the merit of the case itself.

    Thirdly, I simply disagree with the “fundamental flaws” of the case you copied from the Overlawyered website. They are either not flaws, or irrelevant to the merit of the case.

    Sean – I don’t see the connection. I’ve already stated that I am against frivolous lawsuits. I agree that liability insurance is out of control and puts unneccessary strain on business. I also believe Michael chose a poor example to make his point by citing the Stella Liebeck case.

    Like

  7. You’re against frivolous lawsuits, except you support the poster child for frivolous lawsuits.

    I’ll state emphatically that my opinion is not based on McDonald’s “spin.” I can safely assume they objected to the lawsuit, but my objection is based on the merits. Liberals want to blame others for their own actions, and if they can get corporate dollars, yippee. The lawsuit was the result of a desire to get rich and “stick it to the man.”

    The knife comparison is valid. McDonald’s customers prefer their coffee hot. Consumers should expect that coffee can and will approach boiling temperature since the boiled water is used in the process. Lukewarm coffee is not appealing. In other word, McDonald’s served their coffee in a way that their customers expect and were sued because of a customer’s ineptitude. Coffee is supposed to be served hot.

    Oddly enough, I poured coffee for myself this morning at work, then bumped into the door frame. Coffee sloshed out and gave me a nice little 1st degree burn on the webbing of my hand between my thumb and forefinger. Who should I sue?

    My thought is that a) I expected and desired for the coffee to be hot, and b) my own clumsiness got me burned. If I sued for $1 or $2.9 million makes no difference, the lawsuit is still frivolous because it ignores my own culpability in mishandling a product.

    Like

  8. I don’t believe that the “poster child for frivolous lawsuits” label is fair. Thus, my disagreement with you.

    How do you know what the motivation behind the lawsuit was? Do you think the sum she asked for in her suit was exhorbitant and would result in her becoming rich or represent a significant drain on McDonald’s financial stability?

    Your argument is full of assumptions like “McDonald’s customers prefer their coffee hot.” Upon what do you base that statement? Do you think there are no temperatures between “causes third-degree burns” and “lukewarm”?

    In answer to your question, you should sue yourself, since you made and served the coffee. And since the jury did not ignore Ms Liebeck’s own culpability in the case, your last point isn’t one.

    Like

  9. Oh, and I’m curious – where are your statistics showing that conservatives do not file frivolous lawsuits? I’d be interested to see how you collected that data.

    Like

  10. I believe “poster child for frivolous lawsuits” label is accurate. People remember it and generally ridicule it, including in an episode of Seinfeld where a lawyer engourages Kramer to sue over a cup of hot coffee.

    If you can know my argument is based on capitulation to McDonald’s Corporation spin, then I can know the motivation behind the lawsuit.

    I base my statement that customers prefer hot coffee on the fact that coffee is made hot and we insulate it to keep it hot and we dump it out when it gets lukewarm. If the coffee was at a temperature they disliked, customers would go elsewhere. The National Coffee Association says that McDonald’s coffee conforms to industry standards, and a spokesman for Mr. Coffee, the coffee machine maker, says that customer complaints indicate that most consumers would prefer the coffee even hotter. When it’s hotter it tastes better and gives off a better aroma.

    My company provided the coffee and made it hot for me this morning, just like McDonald’s did for her. We both spilled it on ourselves.

    I did not say conservatives do not file frivolous lawsuits. I said liberals want to blame others for their problems. Conservative emphasize personal responsibility while liberals look to others for solutions instead of taking responsibility for their own actions. The American Trial Lawyer Association contributes heavily to the Democratic Party and very little to the Republican party. The ATLA also supports the McDonald’s verdict and offers strategies on tailoring your own lawsuit after the McDonald’s case to be as successful, while conservatives such as the Wall Street Journal and Overlawyered.com support tort reform to inhibit the ATLA from making money suing businesses.

    It’s not a big jump to assume that most people that support the McDonald’s lawsuit are liberals.

    Like

  11. I’ve too much to say and comment upon.

    The lady was a total dork, right off the bat. If I remember she was holding the coffee between her legs, maybe putting on makup and talking on a cell phone too! All the while the kids were making a fuss and she was in a hurry as the kids were late for school and she was going to late for work too?

    Yes uncalled for. But so are 99.9% of this type of lawsuit! They are filed for the benefit of the attorney filing NOT for the plantif!

    Tort reform is needed in this country! The citizens will NEVER get it as long as we allow attorneys to be our members of congress! I’ll add term limitations to that also. We also need a real fair taxing system in this country. like the fairtax bill.

    I’m very new here, but such is a constant from my fingers anyplace that will allow it.

    ciao..

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s