Friday, October 28, 2011

Hot Coffee: How Quickly History is Perverted

As a lover of history, I'm interested in how history can change according to who records it. (As a writer of history, this is also frustrating.) I'm particularly fascinated by how history changes within my own lifetime.

Case in point:

We've all heard the story of the woman who spilled hot coffee on her lap and sued McDonalds for millions. This event has been made fun of by comedians, writers... heck, I've made fun of this story. It's just another example of a frivilous lawsuit that makes us laugh.

What most people don't know is that the coffee was so hot, this woman got thrid-degree burns. She had to get skin grafts and racked up a whopping $10,000 medical bill. She asked McDonalds to pay for her medical bills, but they refused.

If someone gave me third-degree burns, you can bet I'd see them in court!

Hot Coffee is a documentary about this incident. It talks about how our concept of frivilous lawsuits is a myth; the truth is, getting justice is more difficult than most people know.

I shouldn't be surprised. A friend of mine had a grandma whose stomach was punctured during surgery -- the acid spilled into her body and slowly killed her -- and her family has been in court with the hospital for almost a decade.

How did the story of the hot coffee get so convoluted? The documentary claims it's because a gag order was placed on the victim, but no gag order was placed on McDonalds. That means the only person allowed to tell this story was a major corporation trying to cover it's butt.

Considering how difficult it is to know the truth of things that are happening around us, imagine how difficult it is to find out what really happened a century ago, or a millenium ago. Take everything you hear with a grain of salt.

5 comments:

  1. I remember studying this case when I was in college. I think at first I was like, what the heck, she's suing over coffee. Then I got it. But I love that it showed me there are definitely lots of sides to the story.

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  2. What a fascinating story, and a reminder that you have to identify the bias before you can make a judgement on anything.

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  3. I recently watched this and thought it was fascinating, too. The pictures of that poor lady's legs were unbelievable.
    Of course, my husband's a plaintiff's attorney, so I guess I'm a little biased :)

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  4. No one should be served coffee hot enough to cause this sort of damage, and I'm seldom on the side of big corporations, but didn't this happen in a drive-thru and the woman attempted to drink the coffee while driving away? I might have my facts wrong, but sometimes we need to take responsibility for what we do. But I think some good came from this; McDonalds has lowered the temp on their coffee, I understand.

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  5. I remember that case, and how quickly it seemed to disappear. BUT McD did change the temp. of the coffee, put warnings on the cup, and redesigned the lid.
    Poor lady.

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