As you know, we here at Abnormal Use often, perhaps incessantly, have written about the Stella Liebeck McDonald’s hot coffee case. Today, we revisit that case not to discuss its merits or legacy, but to remark upon one of history’s interesting twists. No matter your position on the issues presented by the Liebeck case, this is an intriguing historical tidbit.
At its essence, the Liebeck case was a products liability case in which the Plaintiff alleged that the hot coffee at issue was, by its very nature, “excessively hot” and “manufactured defectively due to excessive heat.” In her suit, the Plaintiff alleged that she sustained “severe and painful burns” which resulted in “skin grafting, debridement, and general recovery from painful scaring, as well as pain and discomfort associated with drawn and tight skin in the scarred areas, which pain and discomfort persists at the present and will persist into the future.” Obviously, as a result of alleging such claims and injuries, the Plaintiff needed some expert medical testimony to establish her claims.
The Plaintiff designated Dr. Charles Baxter, a medical doctor as her “burn specialist.” At the trial, Dr. Baxter opined that coffee served at 180 degrees was simply too hot and the ideal range for a coffee’s temperature to be served was between 150 and 160 degrees.
Dr. Baxter has an interesting resume.
Check out this excerpt from a March 13, 2005 Associated Press obituary which appeared in The Washington Post following Dr. Baxter’s death that year;
Charles L. Baxter, 75, one of the doctors who tried to save President John F. Kennedy after he was shot in Dallas on November 22, 1963 died March 10 at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas where he had been a professor emeritus of surgery since 1993.
That same day, Dr. Baxter operated on Texas Governor John Connolly.
With respect to his experience on burns, Dr. Baxter’s experience was summarized by the AP as follows:
Dr. Baxter developed a formula for burn patients, referred to as the Baxter Burn Formula or the Parkland Burn Formula. He discovered that patients with large, severe burns need tremendous amounts of fluid the first day of treatment, especially during the first eight hours.
Dr. Baxter also founded a tissue bank at Parkland Hospital to provide skin grafts for burn patients.
According to the Texas Medical Board, Dr. Baxter received his medical license on August 14, 1954. This means that at the time of the Liebeck trial, which took place on August 8-12 and 15-17, 1994, he had been a licensed medical doctor for 40 years to the day. Oh, and here is a link to Dr. Baxter’s testimony before the Warren Commission.