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Old November 13, 2011, 07:26 AM   #68
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Join Date: April 26, 2007
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Posts: 282
jkp1187, I personally like my coffee that hot, as it will eventually cool. I don't like it served at a temperature that isn't much above tepid, because it will get cold.

Hot coffee is hot. It might be very hot. The little sip holes in coffee lids have caused me to burn my lips with coffee that didn't actually burn without use of the lid, because of focusing... Should I blame the lid manufacturer?

Knives are sharp. I've cut myself on knives...

You can look at it as being snarky; I look at it as a matter of recognizing that some things out there come with anticipatable risks.

And while you might say, "she's a 79 year old woman," as though that means she should be viewed as more vulnerable, you might also say "she's a 79 year old woman," as though it means she should be that much aware - due to her age and experience - and that much more cautious, due to her (known) weaker physical condition.
Actually, there is a principle of law that dates back over one hundred twenty years colloquially known as the "eggshell skull rule". It means that the tortfeasor takes the victim as they were, even if they were in a more vulnerable state than the average person, and even if this was not reasonably foreseeable by the tortfeasor. As a matter of policy, we don't want the victim's unusual vulnerability to injury to mitigate the damages from the tortfeasor; (s)he should be taking steps to ensure that (s)he doesn't injure people generally.

For example, if you have a negligent discharge at the range and hit me in the arm, but because I'm a hemophiliac, I bleed out before medical help can arrive, you wouldn't be able to get the damages reduced at the inevitable civil suit because you didn't reasonably know that I was a hemophiliac.

Vosburg v. Pitney, though I do not think it mentions it by name, is considered one of the exemplars of the rule. You can find it here if you're curious:

Remember that in this case:

(1) A 79 year old woman is more susceptible to injury, will take a longer time to recover from those injuries, and may have more difficulty with manipulating the cups. This may have weighed on the amount of actual damages awarded.

(2) Of course, anyone regardless of age, could have spilled the coffee. One of the facts relied upon during the case was that the coffee at that temperature would cause a third-degree burn in two to seven seconds.

(3) It actually was forseeable that people would be seriously injured by the temperature of the coffee -- in fact McDonald's had already spent $500,000.00 (five hundred thousand U.S. dollars) settling injury claims.

(4) It took the woman several surgeries and two years to completely recover.

You could also say that choosing to eat or drink while driving brings with it a certain amount of elevated risk. Go to Germany; cars there do NOT have cupholders. The Germans, strange though it may seem, think that a driver should focus on driving....
(5) I'm sorry, apparently I was unclear. The 79-year old woman who spilled the coffee was not driving a car. She was a passenger in the car. Her grandson, the driver, had pulled into a parking spot when the coffee was spilled. Anyway, would it have made a difference if she was sitting in a booth at McDonald's, from which she couldn't get up quickly? Come on.

(6) The jury did find the woman 20% at fault, and the award for actual damages was reduced by 20%. McDonald's was also hit with punitive damages because they were aware that people were getting injured (having paid out $500,000 in settlements previously) and decided not to change anything.

(7) Don't forget, the woman offered to settle for $20,000 (twenty thousand U.S. dollars) to cover her $18,000 medical bills + pain and suffering. McDonald's rejected this and offered to settle instead for $800 (eight hundred U.S. dollars). In the end, even though McDonald's was technically on the hook for $640,000, they settled for an undisclosed amount before the appeal was completed (which probably means: less than $640,000.

(8) And finally: $1.35 million was, at the time, the daily profits that McDonald's made from selling coffee alone.

Anyway, I will not comment on this again, because I think these posts are skirting the edge of relevance in this forum generally. I wanted to make these points because I am tired of people who know nothing about the case spreading misinformation about it. If the case still seems unreasonable to you, that's fine--carry on making fun of it. I have found, however, that the case works well as a punchline principally among people who are ignorant of its details.
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