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Hot Coffee and Daytona Beach Lawyers

Thu, Aug 18, 2011 at 2:35PM


     Hot Coffee, the HBO documentary, should make you angry.

     Unless you are a corporate executive, then you can say “we won.”

     The documentary shows how U.S. corporations, through the work of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other private groups, have found ways over the past 30 years to undermine the nation’s civil justice system in which Daytona Beach lawyers practice.

      Featuring the case of the elderly woman who was burned by hot coffee she got at McDonald’s, the documentary focuses on how corporations have used the media and other means to distort what has gone on in the civil courts.

      For example, people interviewed on the street thought the woman was driving when she spilled the coffee, and got millions of dollars from McDonald’s.

     In reality, the woman’s nephew was driving and had pulled over into a parking spot so he could get situated and she could put cream and sugar in her coffee. When she tried to pull the lid off the coffee, it spilled into her lap and she screamed. Photos show her injuries were horrendous from the 180-degree F coffee. A jury awarded her $200,000 in compensatory damages and $2.7 million in punitive damages, noting McDonald’s blatant disregard for public safety. The company itself had documented 700 prior complaints from customers burned by coffee bought at McDonald’s. The judge reduced the compensatory damages to $160,000 and the punitive damages to $480,000. The parties settled in private on a final payment, thought to be less than $600,000.

     The documentary shows how the case was spun in the media by McDonald’s and others until the real story was distorted.

     Daytona Beach lawyers, such as Seitz & Tresher, have been limited in how they can represent clients in the civil courts by the many devices that corporations have helped create through legislation or other ways.

      Besides using PR campaigns, corporations and the medical industry, have gotten caps placed on the damages that can be awarded, taking away a jury’s ability to determine a fair amount. Elections have been swayed to get pro-business judges elected and some judges considered not pro-business have been attacked by federal prosecutors to silence them, according to the documentary.

     Mandatory arbitration has been used in employment contracts to keep workers from being able to use the courts for when they’ve been harmed. Now that same device is found in many of the contracts for things you buy – from cell phones to just about anything you buy on the Internet.

     Taking cases with big jury awards and spinning them as simply people using “lottery lawsuits” to get rich or suing big companies as a living. People have gotten the idea that the courts are riddled with frivolous lawsuits and the extreme restrictions placed on use of the civil courts were necessary.

     The scary part for Daytona Beach lawyers is that the civil courts have been the way that Americans have gained a layer of protection from dangerous products or unscrupulous employers.

     The four cases used in Hot Coffee show the devastating impact of the devices that big business, the medical industry and others have had on ordinary Americans. While the documentary should make you angry, it should also scare you into realizing that something must be done.

      While there are more restrictions on civil cases than before, the Daytona Beach lawyers of Seitz & Tresher still will fight for your rights. If you feel you have a legitimate case, contact the firm today.

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