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The Real Facts of the McDonald’s Coffee Case

June 2, 2018  |  General, Personal Injury, Trials  |  No Comments  |  Share

Given the serious injuries involved in our client’s cases, and Oregon insurers’ refusal to make reasonable settlement offers (or any offer at all), many of our clients end up in trial because the rest of their life depends upon the outcome of their case.

Perhaps the most important part of a trial is jury selection.  Without twelve unbiased jurors, our client has no chance of receiving justice no matter whether the evidence and law should result in the client being fully compensated for their losses by the jury

During jury selection in every trial, we receive a very strong reaction to questions about “frivolous lawsuits” and in particular to what many people simply refer to as the “McDonald’s coffee case.”  Some politicians and certain elements of the media have twisted this case into an urban myth, rather than reality.  Many people now believe that the woman who sued McDonalds for hot coffee was driving her car and put hot coffee in her lap, and then sued McDonalds for millions of dollars for a getting a little hot coffee on herself without making any attempt to settle the case.  These twisted facts suggest to some Americans the downfall of our society by a greedy woman who failed to take personal responsibility and instead blamed a greatly loved American corporation that had done nothing wrong.

In hopes of setting the record straight, we would like to provide the public the real facts of the case and why a New Mexico jury compensated the woman.

McDonalds intentionally made their coffee so hot, they knew it would burn people.

You may have heard that the woman who sued McDonalds was stupid and that it was her fault because she spilled coffee on herself while she was driving.  The truth is, Stella Liebeck of Albuquerque, New Mexico, wasn’t the driver and the car wasn’t moving. She was the passenger in her grandson’s car when she was severely burned by McDonald’s coffee in February 1992. Liebeck ordered coffee that was served in a Styrofoam cup at the drive-through window of a local McDonald’s.

After receiving the order, Stella’s grandson pulled his car forward and stopped so that she could add cream and sugar to her coffee. Liebeck placed the cup between her knees and attempted to remove the plastic lid from the cup. As she removed the lid, the entire contents of the cup spilled into her lap.

The sweatpants Liebeck was wearing absorbed the coffee and held it next to her skin. A vascular surgeon determined that Liebeck suffered full thickness burns (or third-degree burns) over 6 percent of her body, including her vagina, inner thighs, perineum, buttocks, and groin areas. She was hospitalized for eight days, during which time she underwent skin grafting. Despite the severity of the injury, she sought to settle her claim for only $20,000 – the cost of her medical treatment. But McDonald’s refused. According to some accounts, they offered her $800.

During discovery (the exchange of documents in a legal case), McDonald’s produced documents showing more than 700 earlier claims by people burned by its coffee between 1982 and 1992. Some claims involved third-degree burns substantially similar to Liebeck’s. This history documented McDonald’s knowledge about the extent and nature of the burn hazard of its coffee.  The question is why had the coffee already burned so many people, and why did McDonalds choose to continue making its coffee so hot?

McDonald’s admitted during discovery that, based on a consultant’s advice, it held its coffee at between 180 and 190 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure that it would still be hot once a person had driven several miles to work before drinking it. Other establishments sell coffee at substantially lower temperatures, and coffee served at home is generally 135 to 140 degrees.

McDonald’s quality assurance manager testified that the company actively enforces a requirement that coffee be held in the pot at 185 degrees, plus or minus five degrees. He also testified that a burn hazard exists with any food substance served at 140 degrees or above, and that McDonald’s coffee, at the temperature at which it was poured into Styrofoam cups, was not fit to drink because it would burn the mouth and throat. The quality assurance manager admitted that burns would occur, but testified that McDonald’s had no intention of reducing the “holding temperature” of its coffee.

Stella Lieback’s expert witness, a scholar in thermodynamics as applied to human skin burns, testified that liquids, at 180 degrees, will cause a full thickness burn to human skin in two to seven seconds. Other testimony showed that as the temperature decreases toward 155 degrees, the extent of the burn relative to that temperature decreases exponentially. Thus, if Liebeck’s spill had involved coffee at 155 degrees, the liquid would have cooled and given her time to avoid a serious burn.

McDonald’s asserted that customers buy coffee on their way to work or home, intending to consume it there. But the company’s own research showed that customers intend to consume coffee immediately while driving.  This would be even more true for passengers such as Stella.

McDonald’s also argued that consumers know coffee is hot and that its customers want it that way. But the company admitted its customers were unaware that they could suffer third-degree burns from the coffee.

The jury awarded Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages. This amount was reduced by the judge to $160,000 because the jury found Liebeck 20 percent at fault in the spill. The jury also awarded Liebeck $2.7 million in punitive damages, which equals about two days of McDonald’s coffee sales.

An investigation after the jury verdict found that the temperature of coffee at the local Albuquerque McDonald’s had dropped to 158 degrees Fahrenheit.  The jury had sent a message that was understood by the company, which had changed its behavior as a result of the jury verdict.  That is the purpose of the punitive damages provided by the jury – to send a clear message to the defendant that they must improve their business practices for the safety of the public.

After the jury verdict, the trial court reduced the punitive damage amount to $480,000 — or three times compensatory damages — even though the judge called McDonald’s conduct reckless, callous and willful. After this, the parties entered a post-verdict settlement for even less.  This settlement agreement included a confidentiality agreement, which prohibited Stella Liebeck from ever discussing the case.  So, while McDonalds, corporate America, talk show hosts and the media hammered away on her reputation as a greedy person, she could never tell her side of the story about how badly she had been injured.  She died being the namesake of the “Stella Awards” a blog and book about frivolous lawsuits and greedy litigious people.  We find many of the cases included in the Stella Awards misleading, and intended to demean the 7th Amendment of the US Constitution.  People who believe these cases are real will claim to be patriotic Americans, while at the same time attempting to destroy one of the most important rights provided to Americans in the Bill of Rights.

It was only after Stella Liebeck’s death that a documentary called “Hot Coffee” disclosed the real facts of the McDonald’s coffee case.  Unfortunately, many people still believe that a jury who provided compensation to Stella for her third degree genital burns and medical bills after hearing the real facts of the case, was “out of control” leading to what some politicians refer to as “jackpot justice.”  Sadly, we find that rather than listening to the facts of any injury case, some jurors will use firmly held beliefs about incorrect information to provide zero compensation to a legitimately injured person.  This is, of course, exactly what insurers and big corporations want, which is why they have used fake information about the McDonald’s Coffee Case for decades, knowing that McDonald’s had legally prevented Stella Lieback from responding with the truth.  More recently, it has become clear that large corporations, including cigarette manufacturers, financially backed a disinformation campaign surrounding the McDonald’s coffee case to ensure that all jurors are contaminated by bias before sitting on a jury, so that they will provide no compensation to injured people.  This book, and this viral YouTube video discuss the campaign to destroy American’s right to an impartial civil jury trial.

At this point, you should ask yourself what if this was yourself, your girlfriend, your wife, or your mother? How would you feel about McDonalds subjecting you (or her) to this amount of medical bills, and this painful and humiliating kind of injury, and then offering you $800? How would it feel, when you couldn’t accept $800 and cover the other $19,200 in medical bills, when McDonalds, cigarette companies, insurance companies, and petroleum companies went on to destroy your reputation throughout the world? Now how does it feel to have been suckered by corporations, their politicians and talk show hosts to fight against people simply trying to get paid reasonably for their injuries as America’s founders guaranteed in the 7th Amendment?  That makes some people really angry.  And it is really easy to think everyone else is out to hit the “lawsuit lottery” until it is you that is hurt and everyone thinks you are the one who is out for jackpot justice.

This unfounded bias is one of many, but types of jury bias that seriously injured people face when attempting to get fair compensation for their personal and financial losses after someone hurts them.  In Oregon, with no legal consequence for providing a $0 settlement offer, many insurers are forcing seriously injured people to trial in order to get any money for their massive financial and personal losses from an injury.  Insurers are counting on the McDonald’s coffee case to supply them with a high percentage of biased jurors that think that the injured person is greedy, and looking for “jackpot justice” when in fact they are simply attempting to get compensated fairly for a loss that was not their fault.  The defense attempts to shift the American value of personal responsibility away from their client onto our injured client, and in the event of an insufficient verdict – the financial loss is passed on to other taxpayers including the jurors themselves through public benefits necessary to sustain the permanently injured person.

Given our experience in trial, picking a jury and discussing these issues, we do our best to find honest and neutral jurors who will fairly evaluate the evidence and law in a case to arrive at a verdict that fully and fairly compensates our clients for their losses.

Oregon Brain Injury Lawyer Speaks at the North American Brain Injury Society Annual Conference

March 31, 2017  |  Brain Injury, General, Personal Injury  |  No Comments  |  Share

Oregon brain injury lawyer, Aaron DeShaw, is speaking at the 30th North American Brain Injury Society annual conference in New Orleans, which is running concurrently with the World Congress on Brain Injury.  DeShaw is 1 of 13 brain injury lawyers in North America selected to speak over the course of the four day conference.  DeShaw is speaking alongside leading brain injury researchers Dr. Erin Bigler (neuropsychologist and pioneer in neuroimaging), Dr. Mariusz Ziejewski, (chair of the scientific peer review committees for the DoD Post Traumatic Stress Disorder/Traumatic Brain Injury (PTSD/TBI) Research Program, and a member of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA] Collaboration Group on Human Brain Modeling), Dr. Brent Masel (neurologist / endocrinologist researching brain injury impact on hormone levels, and past president of the Brain Injury Association of America), Dr.  James Kelly (founder and director of the National Intrepid Center of Excellence [NICoE], a Department of Defense Institute and concussion researcher at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center).  DeShaw also met internationally renowned neurologist Dr. Frederick Carrick, Clinical Scholar at Harvard Medical School and Senior Research Fellow at University of Cambridge to discuss recent brain research conducted at those universities.

DeShaw also attended the World Congress on Brain Injury, reviewing new brain injury research presented for the first time at the conference by universities and researchers from all over the world.

DeShaw is believed to be the only Oregon brain injury lawyer ever selected to present at an annual NABIS conference.  His presentation is on the improper use of the Fake Bad Scale by insurance company doctors to falsely claim that injured people are malingers (liars).   DeShaw’s lecture exposes that this test, commonly used by insurance company doctors, is not scientifically valid and is used by defense doctors to mislead judges and jurors that an injured person is faking their injury.  The presentation reveals the Fake Bad Scale as junk science that should never be admitted by a judge in a personal injury trial.

In addition to being a nationally known brain injury lawyer, DeShaw is a well known speaker on brain injuries to doctors, lawyers and brain injury survivors.

NW 23rd x Glisan Natural Gas Explosion Lawyer

Portland Natural Gas Explosion Lawyer investigates explosion at NW 23rd x Glisan

On the morning of October 19, 2016, a natural gas explosion took place on the corner of NW 23rd and Glisan in Portland.   The blast destroyed the building that formerly housed Portland Bagelworks, near Dosha Salon.  Blast victims and business owners from the surrounding area are contacting our Natural Gas Explosion Lawyer regarding blast injuries and business losses caused by the natural gas explosion.

Based upon present news reports, a third party contractor hit a natural gas pipe at approximately 8:55 a.m.  Crews from NW Natural Gas and Portland Fire & Rescue responded to the report of the natural gas leak and evacuated the building, but apparently did not notify surrounding buildings.  At approximately 9:39 am, a significant explosion occurred at the site.  Despite evacuating the building where the leak occurred, the massive blast caused injuries to people, and business losses in the surrounding area.  There is also damage to three of the surrounding buildings from the massive force of the explosion.

“It’s a scene like none other that I’ve ever seen,” said Portland Mayor Charlie Hales.

NW 23rd Gas Explosion LawyerFor more information, photographs and video of the natural gas explosion damage, visit Oregon’s major media sources:

Newspapers
The Oregonian

Willamette Week

Television:

KGW

KATU

KOIN

KPTV

Social Media:
Twitter NW 23rd Explosion

Twitter #nwpdxfire

DeShaw Law is investigating these natural gas explosion claims on behalf of people injured by the blast.  If you are interested in finding a Natural Gas Explosion Lawyer for injuries or business losses caused by the natural gas explosion on NW 23rd and Glisan, please contact our office for a free consultation at (503) 227-1233.

NW 23rd Gas Explosion

Oregon Personal Injury Lawyer Gets $420,000 against GEICO

Oregon Personal Injury Lawyer Aaron DeShaw gets $420,281 for local doctor against GEICO's offer of $39,700.

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Oregon Personal Injury Lawyer Lectures on Brain Injury Imaging

April 1, 2016  |  Brain Injury, General, Personal Injury  |  No Comments  |  Share

workhorse-email-banner-horses_updatedPortland Oregon Personal Injury Lawyer, Aaron DeShaw, lectured this week at the Florida Justice Association Workhorse Conference in Orlando Florida.  DeShaw, a nationally known brain injury lawyer, lectured to the 200+ lawyers on medical imaging for traumatic brain injuries.  DeShaw’s lecture focused on high resolution 3T MRI, CT, Diffuse Tensor Imaging, HDFT, PET, SPECT, EEG, MEG, MRA, CSF flow studies, and much more.

DeShaw was personally invited by John Romano, who started the Workhorse conference 30 years ago.  The conference is nationally known for its intensity, with lectures running from 7 am to 10pm each day for four days.  DeShaw was joined by a panel of speakers of the nation’s best lawyers including Mark Lanier, American Association for Justice Past-President Lisa Blue, John Morgan, Christopher Searcy, Mark Mandell, Keith Mitnik, fellow brain injury lawyer Dorothy Clay Sims, and many more.

Another highlight to the event was spending time with lawyer Gary Pillersdorf of New York.  Few people know that DeShaw is the editor of the book “Moe Levine on Advocacy” a project that took approximately three years to complete.  Moe Levine is largely agreed to be the greatest personal injury trial lawyer in history, and is often called the “Shakespeare of Trial Law.” The book is a compilation of every known writing, article, lecture recording, and case transcript known to exist at the time it was released.  It was only after the book was completed that DeShaw met Pillersdorf, who was an associate at a law firm where he worked with Moe Levine, Aaron Broder and F. Lee Bailey (later one of the lawyers on O.J. Simpson’s “Dream Team”).  This time in their third meeting, DeShaw and Pillersdorf discussed further details of some of the cases highlighted in the book, including Levine’s most famous closing statement on behalf of a client who had lost both arms in a railroad accident.  Pillersdorf recounted how after he had prepared all the details of the case and the man’s losses for Levine for his closing statement.  He noted it was pages and pages long.  Pillersdorf said that Levine looked at all of his work for about two seconds, then Levine got up, said four sentences to the jury for his closing statement and sat down.  The result was a stunning $5 million verdict in the 1960s, which remained a record in New York for many years.

DeShaw is a former doctor, turned Oregon personal injury lawyer, who handles catastrophic injury cases – most commonly traumatic brain injuries.  His educational background (including over 3000 hours of classroom instruction on topics including radiology, neurology, anatomy, neuroanatomy, neurophysiology and neurological diagnosis, and approximately 800 additional hours of clinical internship) as well as years of practice as a doctor in the US and Europe where he took and read thousands of sets of medical imaging, gives him a substantial background in handling traumatic brain injury litigation cases.  His attendance at events such as the Florida Workhorse Conference keeps him on the cutting edge of litigation methods used by winning lawyers.