STOP "TORT REFORM"
What is “tort reform?” Tort reform is the attempt by insurance companies and big business to prevent seriously injured people from being compensated for their injuries. Tort reform is intended to protect businesses from paying for their negligence and to protect the profits of insurance companies. If their real purpose was to stop frivolous lawsuits, as they claim, why is their major goal aimed at placing “caps” or limits on what the most seriously injured people can recover for their injuries, without regard to the validity of that person’s claim?
the cornerstone of the “tort reform” movement is the McDonald’s
Coffee Cup case. We’ve all heard of it. We’ve all heard
how unfair that decision was. But wait. Do you know all of the
facts of that case? Do you know what McDonald’s admitted to in
that case? Do you know what caused the jury to award punitive
damages against McDonald’s? Listen to this, from Morgan, The
Recorder, September 30, 1994!:
woman, Stella Liebeck, 79 years old, was sitting in the passenger seat of
her grandson’s car. While the car was stopped she attempted to
remove the coffee cup’s lid. Unfortunately the cup tipped.
She received third-degree burns over 16 percent of her body, necessitating
hospitalization for eight days, debridement, skin grafting, scarring, and
disability for more than two years. Before trial she requested a
settlement of $20,000. McDonald’s refused. They wanted a
trial. The jury awarded her $200,000 in compensatory damages for her
injuries. They reduced that by 20% for her percentage of fault.
They also found McDonald’s conduct so egregious that they awarded 2.7
million dollars in punitive damages (roughly 2 days of McDonald’s
revenue from coffee sales). However, the judge reduced the punitive
damages to $480,000. In refusing to grant a new trial to
McDonald’s, Judge Robert Scott called McDonald’s behavior
So what is
the problem. If anything, we should be complaining that the Judge
should not have reduced the award. If McDonald’s knew the risks of
serious burns, ignored it, and decided as a business decision to sell
scalding coffee, how can 2 days of revenue be considered to be too high an
award to Stella Liebeck? If a jury of our peers made the decision
after hearing all the evidence, why should a judge reduce the award!
Or consider this, if you think that 2 days of revenue is too much: the system worked! The jury made their decision. It obviously wasn’t made without thoughtful deliberation since they reduced her compensatory damages by the 20% they thought she was at fault. There was clearly evidence supporting the decision that McDonald’s actions went beyond negligence and supported punitive damages. And the Judge, as overseer of the process, reduced what he thought was a high punitive award.