Cannot Coerce Compassion

United States
June 28, 2011 10:52am CST
Since I couldn't sleep this morning and the Married with Children episode was one I had just seen a week previous, I flipped on over to HBO--the network where irrelevant liberals go to be buried under fantastic late-night series--and watched a documentary called Hot Coffee. I was instantly intrigued due to the description. It was about lawsuits and namely that woman who spilled hot coffee on her lap and sued McDonald's. I could tell right away that it was a more "liberal" side of the story, slamming the right awfully hard and coming down on the idea of any tort reform. But I was still intrigued. Apparently, McDonald's was at 80% fault due to the fact that they kept their coffee too hot. The woman was supposedly sitting in the parking lot in the passenger seat when she spilled it on her lap. She got some horrific burns and needed surgeries and the 9. There it was. They were attempting to pull the compassion out of me. But I just wasn't feeling it. This wasn't the doco being political at this point. This was just the woman's story - got some really hot coffee, spilled it, got some really bad burns. As badly as she was burned, all I could say to myself was, "How is it anyone's fault that you spill coffee?" The severity of the injury is tragic. It really is. Due to the many complaints McDonald's had received about their hot coffee, the smart business move would be to hold it at a lower temp. But the onus is still on the coffee drinker to realize that it's HOT and not to spill it. Then they switched over to a story about twins. Two boys in the womb, one placenta, one mistake on the hospital's part that was found to have contributed to the brain damage of one of the babies. The parents sued, they won, but the state cap on punitive damages meant their 5 mil got knocked back to 1 mil. And as tragic as that was, I still didn't feel my heart swelling or any anger in my gut or any little guy on my shoulder shouting into my ear that the system needs to change. I feel for the kid and his parents in this. I do. I just can't help but balk at the idea of the hospital being 100% responsible for a woman's pregnancy. You can ask for specifics or seek alternate opinions. Should someone else be that responsible for you or your children's well-being? I can't call it; I just don't feel it. I don't have any issue with the fact that these people sued and won. Their stories were really stories of victims. What bothered me about the whole thing, and why I wasn't feeling any overwhelming sense to write my Congressman, was because they completely ignored the idea of people gaming the system or receiving too much money for something that was totally their fault. They set it up rather well. These folks are good at this kind of thing. They'd run a clip of Bush or another right wing politician talking about frivolous lawsuits, then they'd show the kid again or the woman's burns. Is it something you have to be born with - the capacity for that level of compassion? I don't know. All I know is that Hot Coffee is totally set up to draw that emotional reaction out of someone, and it just wasn't doing it for me. My stance is now and has always been that these lawsuits shouldn't have any limits or be limitless as a whole. It should work on a case by case basis. But showcasing the victims and ignoring system abusers is something that goes over my head. Maybe it's just me.
1 person likes this
5 responses
• United States
29 Jun 11
I feel like I just had a flashback to 1990. I'm not sure what the point of the show was because I didn't see it. But to catch you all up on the times a lot of states have since passed some very stiff tort reform laws. You have to understand that in the case of a civil suit it only takes preponderance of evidence to find in the plaintiffs favor. So, in the case of McDonalds serving something meant to be ingested at a temperature that was hot enough to cause sever burns that is plenty, the water never needs to be that hot to brew coffee. She should have been awarded medical costs plus some. However, the amount she got was excessive, as far as I know she didn't suffer more than some pain and some likely scarring. But probably nothing that would affect her career or livelihood. Most cases settle out of court of for reasonable amounts, but thanks to tort reform, some people are now lobbying for lifts in their states. A lot of state caps are about $300,000+/-. Is that enough to compensate losing something important, like sight, hearing, the ability to walk or talk? No one would ever say, "Hey did you hear about the guy who got $300,000 because he got hit by a car and paralyzed from the waist down? What a lucky guy!" Maybe they should have put in a clause that excluded impairment, but they didn't... You know who does love it? Insurance companies, they're profits have gone up significantly since the reform laws.
1 person likes this
@Rollo1 (16689)
• Boston, Massachusetts
29 Jun 11
Cases settle out of court because it is more costly to litigate them than it is to pay a settlement on a nuisance claim - even if you win you spend more on defending the claim than you would on a settlement. The fact that settements are common does not automatically confer merit on the majority of personal injury cases clogging our court dockets, most of them are without merit and most of them do not involve any real injuries. You have no idea how much fraud is perpetrated in personal injury law.
• United States
29 Jun 11
I understand that a person spilling coffee is the person's fault. If she had taken a drink and the coffee was so incredibly hot that it jarred her physically and caused her to drop the cup, I would be on her side totally. But she just spilled it. I'm trying my hardest to remove her injuries from my mind, because the end result is what makes her the victim and the fact that she has victim status changes a lot of people's outlook on the entire thing. I'm thinking that if she dropped some hot mustard sauce on her shirt, McDonald's wouldn't be liable for the dry cleaning bill. Maybe it's a wise business move to hold the coffee at a lower temp, and I said as much. But the drink comes in a thick cup with a lid that's snapped on there pretty tight. She took the lid off, sat the coffee in her lap, and spilled it. As a courtesy, McDonald's should have covered the bill, just to show that they're that kind of company. But the precedent something like her awards set is more damaging than any hot coffee will ever be. You're telling people that you are responsible for very, very little and that the company is on the hook for a product at all times. This can be the case in a car sold with a faulty braking system. Sure. But not for someone who simply forgot to hit the brake pedal. Thanks for the response!
• United States
29 Jun 11
"You can't blame her for the injuries sustained." But I can and do. Others did not and found McDonald's liable. That's fine with me, as I said in my original discussion. But that signaled to every Johnny-come-lately money-chaser that there's free money in them there hills. I totally expect stores serve drinks and food hot enough to burn. Gas ignites, too, but most people are smart enough not to spill it and ignite it at a gas station. My friend owns a paving business. The asphalt is very hot. If he shovels some in his shoe on mistake, that's his problem. And I'll stand by that. Now, if the dump truck malfunctions and dumps asphalt all over someone, then maybe the manufacturer is liable for faulty equipment.
• United States
29 Jun 11
Some people have no compassion, and some only have compassion for things that they relate to. It sounds like you have a responsibility issue, you feel that people should be responsible for their actions, but not if they are working for a company. There are people that game the system, but many people game the system, especially politicians. Should we limit who can run for office?
1 person likes this
@Rollo1 (16689)
• Boston, Massachusetts
29 Jun 11
"you feel people should be responsible for their actions, but not if they are working for a company" That's the law. If you are an agent of a company, operating within the scope and course of your employment, the company has vicarious liability for your actions. The agent is only responsible for damages or injuries caused by a deviation from his course of employment or wanton negligence. What's wrong with personal responsibility? Not enough victims?
• United States
29 Jun 11
Debater, I do appreciate the response, but you always seem to read something entirely different from what I write. I'm not sure if it's intentional or if you simply gloss over words and assume you have everyone pegged. The end of my discussion sums up what I feel - a case by case basis. Thanks for the response!
• United States
29 Jun 11
Rollo, doctors are held accountable for procedures that they perform all the time, and republicans want to make sure that they aren't held responsible. So which party is pushing personal responsibility? I believe in personal responsibility in ALL walks of life including politicians who refuse to take reprehensibility for their statements, and blame others.
1 person likes this
@GardenGerty (99286)
• United States
28 Jun 11
Understanding the law is often beyond me. A case by case basis does sound valid. I really believe as far as some of the medical issues are concerned, we, as consumers must self advocate. Be informed. I do not know if there was anything that could have been done in the case you described, but many times I hear people complain about the treatments they do or do not get for medical problems and it becomes someone else's fault. Get second opinions, learn what is common with your condition, discuss with your doctor. People often say that my doctor is a pill pusher, I beg to differ. If you go in expecting a magic pill that fixes everything and you are not willing to try anything else, you will get a pill. Or some other unpleasant and ineffective therapy. If you go in and intend to discuss your situation, and you know what you are talking about, you may be getting a better treatment in the long run. I probably am diverging, but to sum it all up, I often do not feel sorry for people who say they have gotten poor medical treatment, if they have not done something for themself.
• United States
29 Jun 11
Yes. Being knowledgeable will ultimately help you receive better care. I feel really bad for this woman with twins, one of whom has grown up with brain damage. I'm not totally incapable of compassion on this issue. But she admitted to knowing about the one placenta issue but never bringing it up, expecting the doctor would have caught it. Maybe the doctor should have, and that's undoubtedly the reason that the jury awarded the mother over 5 million dollars. But the fact that the hospital HAS to be that much in charge of someone else's pregnancy, when they deal with thousands upon thousands every single year, just removes the idea of personal responsibility from the picture. Just a little more responsibility on the part of the "victim" would create far fewer victims. Thanks for the response!
@Rollo1 (16689)
• Boston, Massachusetts
28 Jun 11
I think the problem is that you can see that these cases lack any blatant instance of wanton negligence on the part of the defendants, the defendants did not intend for the injuries to occur, and there is often a contributory negligence on the part of the plaintiff. Compassion for the injured party would go up if coffee weren't supposed to be hot, for instance, and for some reason McDonalds superheated what the plaintiff expected to be a cold drink. In that case you could get four-square behind the completely innocent and surprised burn victim. But if you know that coffee is hot, there is some duty on you to behave in a manner consistent with the reasonably prudent man - and that might mean not holding it between your thighs. The problem with many of the suits that are litigated is that unlike these very serious consequences, the damages are usually much more minor, the negligence on the defendant much slighter and the defendant and his attorney will be very happy usually with the small settlement amount that the defendant is willing to pay out rather than incur the very high expenses of an extended court case. Settlement before trial is the most common outcome of these cases. Work for a few years dealing with personal injury cases and you will feel even less sympathy and compassion than you did. Liberals are all about victims, Without victims, there could be no need whatsoever for the liberal political platform. That is why they fight the doctrine of personal responsibility so vociferously. If you are responsible for yourself, you are no one's victim and the government won't be able to create a new department and bureaucracy to spend money on you, your problem, the root of your problem, the societal solution to your problem and the thousands of federal employees it will take to handle your problem and adminstrate the tax money they intend to throw at it. Tort reform will never happen because the Trial Attorneys Association spends a lot of money on political campaign donations to make sure it doesn't happen.
@Rollo1 (16689)
• Boston, Massachusetts
28 Jun 11
Correction: "the defendant and his attorney" That should be "the plaintiff and his attorney will be very happy usually with the small settlement amount that the defendant is willing to pay..."
• United States
29 Jun 11
I feel for the end results - like having really bad burns or a mentally disabled child. But then there's the "how" in it all. And in the two star cases of the show, what was presented was that a person's responsibility did not matter. McDonald's was supposed to serve cooler coffee. The hospital was supposed to find the one placenta. The coffee-drinking woman did not have to realize you should hold a cup of coffee firmer, and the pregnant woman with twins did not need to know a thing about having twins. It all had to be done for them, apparently. I can still feel for real victims. But when it's presented like Hot Coffee presented it, I just roll my eyes and wonder who, if anyone, is buying into the hype, as if everyone daring to file a lawsuit is a true victim and corporations are strictly evil. Thanks for the response!
• Guam
29 Jun 11
Lawsuits come and God but believe this, God will repay them for their injustice. God will help.
• United States
29 Jun 11
Well, I don't know anything about all that. I'm the type of individual that would like to get a handle on things as people. God or no god, I believe people are capable of straightening things out for themselves. Thanks for the response!