Stella Liebeck: Coffee and Frivolity Essay

Stella Liebeck: Coffee and Frivolity Essay

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Most people will not recognize the name Stella Liebeck but say the words “hot coffee lawsuit” and recognition will be instant. The story is almost so well known that it has almost passed into the realm of urban legend or myth. And in the broad strokes it has become a bit of a myth. An old woman drives through a McDonald’s drive through, orders a cup of coffee and then promptly and recklessly spills the beverage all over her legs. Then in search of an easy payday she sues the restaurant for millions of dollars, ultimately walking away a millionaire with no more damage than a ruined pair of sweatpants. The story has been held up as a parable for what is wrong with America today. The well-worn story can be held up to serve as a totem pole for any number of issues. People don’t want to work for money anymore, just look at that hot coffee lady. People don’t want to take responsibility for their actions, just look at that hot coffee lady. People are idiots, look at that coffee lady. As it turns out, the “coffee lady” is a good story for examining the world we live in today, but not for the reasons that might be expected.
The facts of the case are now more readily available thanks to the internet. When the story first broke in 1992 the internet was still in its infancy. Most of the media coverage at the time came from print and television coverage and most of that was not comprehensive at all. The initial jury award of almost 3 million dollars was sensational, grabbing headlines all over the world. Now with the advent of the internet in its modern form the facts are coming out about what actually happened. It turns out that Mrs. Liebeck was actually injured far more seriously than most realize and received far less money than was actua...


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...rthrate in infants are all over the packages. Most medicines list a whole plethora of possible side effects of the medication. Yet coffee cups to this day have no mention of the ramifications of spilled coffee. Maybe someday McDonald’s and other fast food chains will print on their cups “Can cause life threatening burns. Handle with care.”
Two decades have passed since that fateful day when Stella Liebeck’s life was turned upside down in a McDonald’s parking lot. Since then her story has served in as a punch line for late night comedians, the basis for an episode of Sienfield and a lyric in a Toby Keith song. She died in 2004 having never fully recovered from her injuries. Unfortunately for her family her story will probably be misquoted and misunderstood in order to support some rather specious arguments about personal responsibility and other ills of society.

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