Posts Tagged ‘failure to warn’

Lawyers target milk

Jonathan Turley is fond of claiming (without any real basis) that litigation reform advocates make up stories to promote tort reform. The reality is that the plaintiffs’ bar provides us with stories far more entertaining than any fictional Winnebago lawsuit.

Remember the day of June 21, 2005, because that’s the day that a sufficient number of the world’s problems were solved that a “public-interest group” has nothing better to do than to troll for plaintiffs to sue the dairy industry for not putting warning labels on milk about lactose intolerance. This is yet another publicity stunt of Dan Kinburn and the misnamed Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, over 95% of whom are not physicians; last time they asked for publicity, we gave it to them. The American Medical Association has called PCRM a “fringe organization” that uses “unethical tactics” and is “interested in perverting medical science.” (via Taylor, who is waiting for vegetarians to sue over beef commercials)

Stella Liebeck and McDonald’s coffee revisited II

More discussion of the McDonald’s coffee case, the blogosphere discussion of it, and why it’s relevant today on our sister blog, Point of Law (Aug. 4).

One additional point merits discussion: “PG” of Blog de Novo (Aug. 3) makes the oft-heard argument that it was alright for Stella Liebeck to sue McDonald’s for millions because she first tried to settle for her medical expenses. I recently had an experience that shows why this thinking is fallacious.

Read On…

McDonald’s coffee revisited

Professor Bernstein (also here) and the “Curmudgeonly Clerk” trade thoughts on the infamous McDonald’s coffee case ($2.9 million verdict for Ms. Stella Liebeck, who spilled a 49-cent coffee on herself), with the Curmudgeonly Clerk’s comments demonstrating how thoroughly the plaintiffs’ bar has infiltrated societal thinking.

The Clerk justifies the verdict on a couple of grounds: McDonald’s had 700 previous complaints; and Ms. Liebeck suffered horrific injuries.

To say that there were 700 previous complaints of burns (ranging from scalds to real injuries) from McDonald’s coffee begs the question. After all, 700 is just the numerator. What’s the denominator? The answer is in the tens of billions. A product that hurts one in twenty-four million people is not “unreasonably dangerous”, especially when the vast majority of the 700 incidents were not the sort of grievous injuries Ms. Liebeck had. (McDonald’s had settled previous cases, but the cases were incidents where the McDonald’s employees had spilled the coffee.) However, the jury took the 1-in-24 million statistic not as evidence that McDonald’s coffee was not dangerous, but as evidence that McDonald’s cared more about statistics than people — when in fact the statistic should have been used to throw the case out.

That Ms. Liebeck was surely serious hurt doesn’t change the underlying problem with the lawsuit: Ms. Liebeck was hurt because she spilled coffee on herself. If (as all fast-food restaurants do now) McDonald’s had the obvious statement “Coffee is hot and can burn you” on the cup (a juror later complained that McDonald’s warning was too small), would that have prevented her injuries? True: McDonald’s could have served luke-warm coffee or even iced coffee. But at the end of the day, the proximate cause of Ms. Liebeck’s injuries, as awful as they were, was Ms. Liebeck.

The argument for liability is that McDonald’s chose to serve its coffee hot and should have foreseen that people would burn themselves when they spilled coffee. But, here’s a question: the reason Ms. Liebeck’s injuries were so terrible was because she was wearing a sweatsuit that absorbed the hot liquid and held it close to her skin. Surely, clothing manufacturers can foresee that people will spill hot liquids on themselves. If Ms. Liebeck’s sweatpants had been made out of Gore-Tex or some other liquid-resistant material, she never would have been hurt. What’s the principle of tort law that holds McDonald’s liable, but not the clothing manufacturer?

Read On…