Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
September 7, 2006
LAW: I Don't Want No Tea, It Give Me A Headache

Ted Frank at has a handy debunker of urban legends about the infamous McDonald's coffee lawsuit.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:00 PM | Law 2006-08 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)

Hmm. Ted Frank...that name sounds familiar...

Oh, yeah. He's the zealous anti-lawsuit guy who obviously trawls the internet daily for anything regarding lawsuits because he came over to the wasteland that is my blog to have it out with me last year...

Here is the Ezra Klein piece that inspired my post, and Ted showed up over too. And Ted also followed me over to John Cole's as well...

Linking to Ted Frank to "debunk" anything is kind of like linking to Pajamas Media to prove Saddam had WMDs.

Posted by: Mr Furious at September 7, 2006 3:28 PM

Y'know, you're allowed to just read the baseball stuff.

Also, you forgot to put your Lefty Brand Scare Quotes™ around "prove" in the final sentence

Posted by: mikeski at September 7, 2006 4:14 PM

Yeah, Mr. Furious just read the baseball! All these facts and stuff just get in the way of the war on terror!

Posted by: jim at September 7, 2006 7:09 PM

Frank is, in fact, a co-blogger at I fail to see how the fact that he's taken it on himself to debunk the urban myths around this case makes him less credible. Anyway, it doesn't seem like we're arguing about the facts at this point.

Posted by: The Crank at September 7, 2006 7:16 PM

Well at least we know now who's spreading the urban legends. Thanks Mr. Furious!

Posted by: Henry at September 7, 2006 9:32 PM

Unfortunately, the LA Times piece Ezra and I linked to last year is no longer available. One of the other sources is still available here. It's just a blog, which gives it no more or less credibility than Frank's site (Crank's link/source). But this Wall Street Journal article IS still available, and it contains a few facts...

Posted by: Mr Furious at September 8, 2006 12:27 AM

Mr. Furious, that is an informative article, but I'm not sure it supports your point of view. Sounds like graphic photos and a sympathetic plaintiff beats rationale standards of liability -- a perfect example of why the case should never have gone to a jury.

Reminds me of a jury story told to me by my brother-in-law. In a snowstorm, a guy skidded off the road into a ditch. His car was well off the road and shoulder. Shortly after that, a motorcyclist skidded off the road at the same spot and hit the guy's car. The motorcyclist sued the guy's insurance company for injury, etc.

In the jury room, my brother-in-law and all the other jurors but one were ready to dismiss in seconds. But one juror kept saying, "But we need to give the motorcyclist something for his pain." It took hours for the other jurors to overwhelm this good samaritan's noble feelings.

Posted by: Henry at September 8, 2006 11:14 AM

The WSJ piece doesn't really mesh with my attitude on the topic, but it does counter some of the BS peddled by Frank.

In a nutshell, here's my position:

I will agree that there are frivolous lawsuits out there. But there are several safeguards already built into the system. Judgers can throw them out ahead of time. And judges can alter the judgements reached by juries, as he did in this case—significantly.

The big objection corporatists and laymen alike have is the large cash settlements that seem out of proportion to the negligence and/or the suffering. That usually comes in the form of the punitive damages. When you are dealing with a giant corporation with $40 billion in annual sales, a company that admits it considers costs incurred by burning customers and employees a negligible cost of doing business, it might take a large sum to get their attention and to change that equation.


If a case is without merit, it is by definition, frivolous. The one piece of tort-reform legislation that I agree with came from noted trial lawyer John Edwards of all people. This is off the top of my head, but it was something to the effect of a merits-test for cases before they get before a judge, and a penalty for lawyers who bring shit cases to court. Three strikes and you are disbarred—or something.

Limits on awards and all the other crap being aggressively peddled by the Right merely serves to limit liability and create a dangerous cost/benefit incentive for corporations with no resulting benefits to anything but the bottom-line, and no protection for the public.


So, in short, weed out the bad cases. Don't set limits.

Posted by: Mr Furious at September 8, 2006 11:52 AM

He pretty much lost me at this point:

"To the extent that McDonald's and other restaurants lowered the temperature of their coffee, all it did was cost those institutions market share—people like hot coffee, and today Starbucks has gone from a local shop to a dominant national chain, despite prices several times higher than McDonald's, because they serve their coffee hotter than McDonald's served it to Stella Liebeck"

Starbucks gained market share merely because they serve their coffee hotter than McDonalds? Marketing, quality, and variety have nothing to do with it? That's an obvious correlation does not equal causation logical mistake early in a piece that makes me question the rest of the reasoning.

Posted by: Robert R at September 8, 2006 6:37 PM

Robert, you misunderstand my remark (which admittedly was not phrased in an optimal fashion). My intent was to convey that people like hot coffee, and if they didn't, Starbucks wouldn't be successful. Starbucks' success (along with the success of high-end home coffee machines that serve coffee hotter than cheaper coffeemakers) proves that people like coffee hotter than Liebeck's coffee. If people didn't like their coffee hot, they wouldn't pay extra for Starbucks or high-end coffeemakers.

"Mr. Furious", what BS did I peddle? Much of my information comes from the WSJ article, except for events that the WSJ couldn't cover because they happened after it was written. (For example, several other coffee sellers, including Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts, have been sued over third-degree burns, refuting the notion that McDonald's was doing something unique--but, then again, the WSJ article and the plaintiff's own evidence shows that McDonald's wasn't at all unique in serving coffee at a hot temperature.) You call me lots of names, but identify absolutely nothing that I got wrong.

"Weeding out the bad cases" means weeding out bad cases like Liebeck's, whose lawyer argued that coffee should never be hotter than 140 degrees, and vendors should be *punished* for selling such coffee. The Edwards legislative definition of "frivolous" was so narrow that it weeded out nothing.

Posted by: Ted at September 14, 2006 9:41 PM
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