Friday, August 19, 2005

Liebeck v. McDonald's

Comments on Matt Weiner's blog made me think today about the infamous McDonald's coffee lawsuit.

If you bought a bottle of sulfuric acid from a chemical supply company and then you spilled it on yourself in the car, the chemical company would not be inclined to pay for your medical bills, and I imagine you would have no luck suing for damages.

I think McDonald's problem was that, so to speak, it thought it was in the sulfuric acid business. McDonald's figured that it sold "very hot coffee," a perfectly legitimate and desirable product, like sulfuric acid, that one should handle with care and not spill on one's sweatpants. But some customers, and ultimately the jury, didn't know that McDonald's was in the "very hot coffee" business. They thought that McDonald's was in the "coffee" business and that its product should be no more dangerous than the coffee at the diner across the street.

So McDonald's should have made sure that its customers knew it was in the "very hot coffee" business. There apparently was a warning on the coffee cup ("Caution Contents Hot") but the jury found that insufficient because it was small, on the side of the cup, and it did not say "No Seriously This Coffee Will Burn You." Maybe McDonald's should actually have made "Extra Hot Coffee" the description of the item on the menu. Would you like extra hot coffee with that?

But, from what I can gather, McDonald's did not choose to use bigger warning labels after the lawsuit. Instead it chose to serve colder coffee. So I guess it only had a limited desire to be in the very hot coffee business after all.


At 9:00 PM, August 21, 2005, Blogger Joe said...

More warning labels lead to the same problem as more contractual safeguards--at some point courts will say, no one can reasonably be expected to read all these things, so we're not going to assume that these are operative. So McDonald's probably chose wisely.

But the other lesson is, when an old lady is injured by your product and all she wants is her medical bills paid, you say "Yes, let's do that," rather than "We'll see you in court."


Post a Comment

<< Home