The Real Story of the McDonalds Coffee Lawsuit

If you consider the infamous lawsuit of an elderly woman suing McDonalds, it’s amazing that so many people automatically sympathized with the biggest fast food chain in the world over a little old lady. It’s scary, in fact, because the facts we all thought we knew are for the most part totally wrong. As the 2011 HBO documentary Hot Coffee explains, most of the information that made its way into newspapers across the country was pure fiction, invented by a company that didn’t have any sense of right and wrong.

In 1994, Stella Liebeck sued McDonalds because the coffee she spilled on herself was too hot, that much is true. What wasn’t as publicized, though, is the damage the burns inflicted on her and the fact that McDonalds ignored over 700 previous complaints about the coffee’s temperature. In Hot Coffee, there’s even footage of a McDonalds executive smugly remarking that drinking the coffee right away would be a foolish decision, as it’d burn the customer’s throat.

Hot Coffee is one of those doc’s that will get you angry. It’s less than and a half, but it’s an anxious 80 minutes. Fortunately and unfortunately, it’s about a lot more than just the McDonalds coffee suit. Hot Coffee focuses most of its time on the tort reform that swept the country after lawsuits like the McD’s one were misrepresented by the press. Others, like the story of a woman who was gang raped by her fellow employees during the time she worked for Haliburton, are tougher to watch.

Apparently, mandatory arbitration is a clause a lot of companies sneak into the fine print of their employment contracts or in a monthly bill that shows up from MasterCard. Janet Leigh Jones is another subject of Hot Coffee, she started working for the military sub-contractor Haliburton after her mom got sick and America went into Iraq. Unknowingly, she signed a mandatory arbitration agreement in when she signed onto work for the company. Mandatory arbitration basically means that employees and customers of all kinds of companies sign a document waiving their right to a court hearing if their harassed or abused by the bad guys in favor of a settlement, determined by an arbitrator of the company’s choosing. You can guess how that usually goes if someone tries going up against a massive beast like Bank of America or General Motors.

After Janet Leigh Jones was brutally gang raped, she spent over four years just trying to get her case heard in court. Like I said, it’s a rough, rough movie to see and much deeper than some good old-fashioned Super Size Me McDonalds hating. It’s worth watching, maybe not on a date night but definitely if you’re thinking about skipping work tomorrow.

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