As you of course already know, we here at Abnormal Use have devoted much time to the discussion of hot coffee lawsuits. As we have often suggested, supporters of cases like the infamous Stella Liebeck v. McDonald’s case focus too much on the damages and not enough on the liability issues, such as whether coffee is an “unreasonably dangerous” product. After all, in a tort action, a plaintiff doesn’t get to damages without first proving liability.
Now, a new report has us questioning our position.
According to a news report from CBS-Los Angeles, a California woman is facing two dozen counts of felony insurance and workers compensation fraud for allegedly submitting false damages materials pertaining to a hot coffee claim. The criminal complaint filed in the San Bernardino County Superior Court states that the woman claimed that hot coffee was spilled on her hand when she was handed a cup with an unsecured lid at a McDonalds drive-thru. Thereafter, she submitted photos of second-degree burns she allegedly lifted from the Internet. Couple that with medical records she allegedly doctored, and you have serious fraud, if true. And, to think, after all this time, after writing about all of these cases, we just assumed the burns were legit.
In all seriousness, we know that hot coffee can cause burns, and this incident is an outlier. That said, we have to wonder how much influence the Liebeck verdict and its legacy had on this woman’s plan. Or, maybe she consulted with Jackie Chiles. Either way, we have to give her some credit. At least she knew to attribute some independent act of negligence to McDonalds (i.e. spilling the coffee) rather than complain about the temperature of the coffee itself.