Posts Tagged ‘hot coffee’

Drinking coffee behind the wheel = distracted driving?

The Minnesota state police don’t deny that they see coffee-drinking behind the wheel as something that might constitute prohibited distracted driving, but deny Lindsay Krieger’s claim that that was why she was pulled over on Interstate 94 in St. Paul. A spokeswoman says an officer stopped and ticketed Krieger (not her first time) for driving without a seat belt, and the coffee lecture was in the nature of an added warning. Krieger was once “busted in Eagan…for eating Cheerios out of a cup while waiting in line to make a turn.” [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, FindLaw]

May 13 roundup

Liebeck v. McDonald’s, another round

Ready to brew, 203 degrees

Ready to brew (h/t Ted Frank)

Because the twenty-year-old Stella Liebeck case is getting another round of attention on some blogs — Susan Saladoff’s short film Hot Coffee having served quite successfully to keep the trial lawyers’ side of the controversy in circulation — it’s worth a closer look at the latest in Jim Dedman’s (Abnormal Use) writings deflating the case’s mythos [Defense Research Institute DRI Today, previously briefly noted in a roundup a couple of weeks ago]. Excerpt:

The central issue was whether hot coffee, which by its very nature is hot, is an unreasonably dangerous and defective product because of its temperature. More specifically, the case concerned whether coffee served at 180-190 degrees is so hot that it makes the coffee itself unreasonably dangerous and defective. Shortly after the trial, The Wall Street Journal reported that McDonalds’ internal manuals at the time–produced in the litigation— indicated that “its coffee must be brewed at 195 to 205 degrees and held at 180 to 190 degrees for optimal taste.” … Contemporary media reports suggested that the coffee was approximately 165 to 170 degrees at the time of the spill, indicating that it had cooled somewhat between the time it was served and the time it had spilled….

Interestingly, today, on its website, the National Coffee Association advises that “[y]our brewer should maintain a water temperature between 195–205 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal extraction” and that “[i]f it will be a few minutes before it will be served, the temperature should be maintained at 180–185 degrees Fahrenheit.” Even in 1994, the National Coffee Association confirmed that McDonalds’ serving temperatures were within industry guidelines (and many restaurateurs have found that their customers complain if they lower the temperature of their coffee).

Failure to warn was also one of the theories in the case:

Curiously, the warnings issue receives little attention these days. Although Liebeck alleged that “the container that it was sold in had no warnings, or had a lack of warnings,” the very cup at issue is prominently displayed—with its “Plaintiff’s Exhibit 44” sticker still affixed—on both the website and the promotional poster of the Hot Coffee film. However, in the very same pictures, it is clear that the cup advises in orange text: “Caution: Contents Hot.”

Earlier coverage here, etc., etc., as well as by Nick Farr at Abnormal Use and Ted Frank at Point of Law. (Yet more: index of Abnormal Use posts).

P.S. It might be added that those “everything you know about the Stella Liebeck case is wrong” internet memes are very often wrong themselves. In particular:

* The story got onto national wires via the AP and immediately set off widespread public discussion on the strength of its own inherent interest, with no evident push from any interest group. When an organized public relations effort did emerge in early weeks of discussion, it was from the plaintiff’s side, which held a press conference in Washington seeking (successfully) to establish and solidify themes in Liebeck’s favor, such as that there had been many earlier consumer complaints about McDonald’s coffee temperature.

* The most gripping supposed “myths of the Liebeck case” were not in fact widely asserted or circulated either at that time or since. Very few commentators erroneously asserted that Liebeck had been driving or that her car was moving, or (even worse) mistakenly claimed that her injuries were somehow minor. Only by treating stray outliers as somehow representative of public discussion can revisionists portray the public’s grasp of the case as grossly ill-informed. It was then and is now plausible for both laypersons and experienced lawyers to fully and accurately grasp the facts of the Liebeck case and, based on that understanding, sharply disagree with the New Mexico jury’s verdict in her favor. That’s one reason most American juries both before and since 1994, asked to decide hot-beverage lawsuits based on similar fact patterns and claims, have decided for the defense even where serious injuries might engage sympathy for a plaintiff’s situation.

* Meanwhile, some truly extraordinary myths and misconceptions — such as that McDonald’s somehow mysteriously “superheated” its brewing water to temperatures unknown in home teakettle use — have widely circulated on the internet in years since, advanced by lawyers and even professors who have every reason to know better. Peculiar assertions of this sort seldom get attention in the oft-seen “myths of the Liebeck case” internet genre.

Liability roundup

  • By convention the business/defense side isn’t fond of jury trial while plaintiff’s side sings its praises, but Louisiana fight might turn that image on its head [Hayride, sequel at TortsProf (measure fails)]
  • Generous tort law, modern industrial economy, doing away with principle of limited liability: pick (at most) two of three [Megan McArdle]
  • Fallacies about Stella Liebeck McDonald’s hot coffee case go on and on, which means correctives need to keep coming too [Jim Dedman, DRI]
  • Interaction of products liability with workplace injury often provides multiple bites at compensation apple, overdue for reform [Michael Krauss]
  • Ford Motor is among most recent seeking to pull back the curtain on asbestos bankruptcy shenanigans [Daniel Fisher; related, Washington Examiner] “Page after page he sits on the straw man’s chest, punching him in the face” [David Oliver on expert affidavit in asbestos case]
  • Kansas moves to raise med-mal caps as directed by state supreme court, rebuffs business requests for collateral source rule reform [Kansas Medical Society]
  • Let’s hope so: “More stringent pleading for class actions?” [Matthew J.B. Lawrence via Andrew Trask, Class Strategist]

Food roundup


  • “The FDA’s Ill-Conceived Proposal to Ban Trans Fats” [Baylen Linnekin] Margarine and other butterfat substitutes help in keeping a meal kosher, but FDA appears indifferent to individual preference [Ira Stoll] Can the baker fudge the formula for Baltimore’s Berger cookies? [Baltimore Sun, WTOP/Capital] Organized grocery lobby appears to be going quietly, perhaps a misguided strategy since this sets a precedent for yanking familiar ingredients off Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) list, and many activists would like to move on to things like sugar next [Bloomberg Business Week, Doug Mataconis/Outside the Beltway, Michelle Minton/CEI, Bainbridge] Switch to palm oil might accelerate deforestation [Scientific American]
  • FDA’s regs implementing Food Safety Modernization Act could tank small farmers and other food operations, commenters write in by thousands [Baylen Linnekin, Jim Slama, HuffPo]
  • Proposed Austin curbs on fast food restaurants might ensnare its beloved food trucks [Linnekin]
  • Any day now FDA could issue long-awaited, highly burdensome new menu calorie labeling regs [Hinkle] Sens. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Angus King (Ind.-ME) introduce bill to excuse grocers and convenience stories from rules and simplify compliance for pizzerias [Andrew Ramonas/BLT]
  • “Panel weighs in on soda ban at law school” [NYU News covers my recent panel discussion there with Jacob Sullum and Prof. Roderick Hills, pic courtesy @vincentchauvet]
  • “Organic Farmers Bash FDA Restrictions On Manure Use” [NPR via Ira Stoll]
  • Nick Farr looks at NYT retrospective on the Stella Liebeck (McDonald’s) hot coffee case [Abnormal Use]
  • “Sugar is the most destructive force in the universe” according to expert witness who meets with less than favorable reception in corn syrup case [Glenn Lammi, WLF]

Stephanie Mencimer on “Hot Coffee” and the Jamie Leigh Jones case

Having been at times lacking in enthusiasm for the work of journalist Stephanie Mencimer, it’s only fair we credit her again with considerable courage for returning to the failed Jamie Leigh Jones case in a new article in Washington Monthly. (Jones alleged a brutal rape in Iraq for which her lawyers said employer Halliburton/Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) should have been held responsible; the case served as a springboard for numerous misleading attacks on pre-dispute arbitration). Following the evidence wherever it leads against the likely inclinations of many Washington Monthly readers, Mencimer leaves Jones’ credibility in tatters and the various liberal and trial-lawyer sources that ballyhooed her case — including Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and TV talker Rachel Maddow — looking highly gullible, to go with the kindest interpretation.

Most damning of all, as readers of posts in this space (especially those by Ted Frank) will recall, Jones was given center stage in Susan Saladoff’s film “Hot Coffee,” which periodically airs on HBO and on college campuses and has established itself as one of the litigation industry’s most durable and successful propaganda vehicles. All future discussion of “Hot Coffee” — and certainly any cable/broadcast airings or public screenings whose sponsors care about accuracy and fairness — will need to warn audiences that the Jones case can now be seen in retrospect as almost unrecognizably different from the picture of it presented in that trial-lawyer-produced “documentary.” If this is what becomes of one of Saladoff’s central cases, how reliable ought we to consider the rest of her film?

Food roundup

  • Colony collapse disorder, the honeybee ailment, was expected to have a dire effect on U.S. agriculture. Market-driven adjustments have helped prevent that [Walter Thurman, PERC]
  • Adieu, Mimolette? Feds may be readying crackdown on imports of artisanal cheeses [Baylen Linnekin] “Food Safety Modernization Act Far More Costly Than Supporters Claimed” [Hans Bader, earlier here, here]
  • “There may be no hotter topic in law schools right now than food law and policy” [Harvard Law School, quoted by Baylen Linnekin] New book, haven’t seen yet: Jayson Lusk, “The Food Police: A Well-Fed Manifesto About the Politics of Your Plate” [Amazon]
  • Further thoughts on hot coffee injuries and lawsuits [Ted Frank]
  • The gain in plains is mainly due to grains: residents of mountains and high-altitude areas have less obesity [Edible Geography] Restaurant labeling: per one study, “some evidence that males ordered more calories when labels were present” [Tim Carney] NYT’s Mark Bittman endorses tax on prepared food [SmarterTimes] “Michael Poppins: When the nanny acquired a police force” [Mark Steyn, NR on Mayor Bloomberg]
  • Who’s demonizing Demon Rum these days, together with Wicked Wine and Baleful Beer? Check out an “alcohol policy” conference [Angela Logomasini, Open Market] Scottish government lobbies itself to be more prohibitionist [Christopher Snowdon]
  • Bill filed by Rep Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) would cut off taxpayer funding of food-bashing propaganda [Michelle Minton; earlier here, etc.]

Donald Trump v. Bill Maher

The best headline is at the ABA Journal: “Trump suit says he’s not ape spawn, seeks to collect on Maher’s ‘unconditional offer’”. Eugene Volokh writes that while Maher’s “orangutan” swipe was clearly a joke, the prospect of sanctions over a Trump court action isn’t. More: Lowering the Bar.

P.S. Someone in the Volokh comments section brings up the McDonald’s hot coffee case, provoking the usual misplaced condescension along lines paralleling the trial bar’s strenuous advocacy efforts on the issue. I do appreciate, though, the suggestion that I trademark the epithet “the goober at Overlawyered.”

P.P.S. Disgruntled beauty pageant contestant ordered to pay Trump $5 million.