Sunday, March 25, 2012

McDonald's Coffee: The truth about the infamous lawsuit

The other day I pulled through McDonald's for their $1.00 soda and a $1.00 McChicken (I know, horrible for me, but I needed quick and very cheap).  "Welcome to McDonald's.  Would you like to order a free coffee today?"  I sat there dumbfounded.  Free coffee?  Really?  Apparently from March 12th through the 23rd, you could get a free coffee at McDonalds.

Why was I dumbfounded?  The idiocy of a corporation and the belief that all people would not know the FULL FACTS of the Coffee lawsuit if the 90's.  In fact, amongst my non- law school friends, this remains the most misunderstood award in tort law history due to a political smear campaign.

So, let me make you aware of the facts as they were:
1.  Normal coffee that you brew at your house is approx 135 degrees.
2.  Corporate McDonald's policy was to brew at 185 degrees, +/- 5 degrees.
3.  McDonalds was aware that this degree of heat would, in fact, burn a customers lips, throat, and mouth.
4.  McDonalds had been warned several times that the heat was too high for safety.  There had been other burns, from other customers.  McDonalds refuse to lower heat, stating their customers were often driving and wanted their coffee to still be hot when the reached their destination.  McDonalds had documented a long history of the severity of this problem.
5.  At 185f, the heat would cause SEVERE burns within 2 to 7 seconds.
6.  The plaintiff was a grandmother and 79 years of age.  She purchased her drink as a passanger in a car.  She was dressed in sweatpants.
7.  She took the top off to add cream and sugar.  The car was parked.  As she took the top off, the cup, the entire contents tipped in her lap.
8.  Her sweatpants absorbed the hot coffee, holding it to her skin, and she suffered 3rd degree burns over 6% of her body.

The jury awarded the grandmother, who had to have several painful skingrafts, what amount to 2 days coffee purchases (2.7 million), but the judge reduced the award of punitive damages to 480,000.  She also received money to pay for her medical bills and pain in suffering in the amount of 160,000.  After the trial, McDonald's dropped it's corporate policy and coffee was brewed at 155 degrees, which allows for the coffee to cool and avoids serious burns.

A woman who suffered serious burns...... And if McDonalds can offer free coffee for 10 days, can you imagine?  For some reason I found this campaign ironic and absurd.  McDonald's fought tooth and nail against a serious injury when the facts pointed to that their policy was dangerous.  I find it turning my stomach, that 20 years almost to the anniversary of the severe burn, McDonald's can give their coffee away from free.  While the lawsuit changed their corporate policy, and gave them what results to a little pat, shrug, and poke of the elbow "don't do that again," the ones that lose out on this are really the plaintiffs.

Why did the Plaintiff lose out????  Simple. I am not talking about the grandmother.  I am talking about future plaintiffs.  The conservative right, has used this case erroneously as to why there should be tort reform.  This case is the "banner" case of the argument about frivolous lawsuits.  Yet, how often do we hear the truth?  We don't.

Perhaps I write this because I am clearly starting to see how mega corporations like McDonalds, lobby to great effect against the little guy.  And it is starting to make me feel sick.  Because they use this public sentiment to lie to us, to deceive us, into believing something that is only partially true.  In this case, the lady spilled her coffee and she must of known it was hot!  There is a warning on the top of the coffee cup after all...... what one does not expect is to have any more than a mild red spot and an ouch -- we don't expect to have 3rd degree burns.  But we the public do not remember the FACTs, we remember the SPIN.

Well I remembered.  And said NO, to that cup of coffee.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Health Condition

Again, I have not posted in so long.  I have been ill.  From the last post, until now, things have not been a picnic but rather a small, slow nightmare of learning what happens when people are unemployed and uninsured and have a health condition.

For the past several years, my doctor has been treating me for TMJ.  I would get extreme pain in my ear and jaw particularly during times of tremendous stress.  In October around the time of the last post that I made, I was convinced I needed an extraction of my back molars.  I figured they had cracked from all the clenching that I did with my jaw.  I was in tremendous pain.  Ultimately the pain faded a bit.  I had no health insurance and no income, so having teeth pulled was last on my list.  I figured I would baby myself along and deal with it.

In November I was standing in Blockbuster when it felt like someone hooked up jumper cables to my teeth on my right side, upper teeth and just cranked it up.  I actually felt giant jolts.  After an hour or so, it stopped.  A few days later, it happened again.  After an hour it stopped again.  This repeated a few more times until around the 10th when the jolts were followed by the feeling of someone hitting my face with a metal bat.  This lasted 5 hours.  5 hours of the worst pain in my life.  Worse than childbirth..... way worse.

On the 16th of November, it came again.  Worse.  6 hours of pain had me a screaming, crying mess.  I told my mom that she had to take me to the ER or I was likely to hurt myself to end the pain.  Crying actually hurt my face.  Tears made me feel like razor blades were slicing my face open.  The cold air outside hurt even more.  I had never felt anything like this in in my life.

I got to the ER and was admitted immediately -- no waiting in the waiting room for a room to open up.  My blood pressure was 185/79.  I actually almost passed out while they were taking my vitals.  I waited for 2 hours to see a doctor (when pain is not visible, you are last in line to be seen).  The ER doctor and a on call neurologist broke the news to me:  I was suffering from a chronic pain condition called Trigeminal Neurolgia.

Trigeminal Neurolgia, hereafter TN,  is a condition in which the largest nerve in your face misfires and sends pain signals to the nerve even from just the slightest touch.  This condition is the known in the medical community as the most painful condition known to medical science.  Those that suffer from it have coined it the "suicide disease" because many who suffer from TN actually take their life.  There is no known cure.  Actually, to make things better, doctors and experts do not know why it happens.  I was told I needed an MRI sooner rather than later to rule out a tumor or MS.  With no health insurance, I chose later.

The first line of treatment is anticonvulsant medications that you would treat epilepsy with.  Unfortunately, these medications have awful side effects and take a long time to build in your system.  My search began.  My primary doctor was not skilled in this area and recommended a trip to a neurologist.  Something I could scarse afford.  After much research I found that OHSU had an expert in the field on their  payroll.... AND a financial assistance program.  I applied and was accepted for financial assistance.

In late January I saw my neuro... who confirmed the diagnosis and referred me to an MRI.  He also made it clear I could not take the bar exam as scheduled in February.  It would be a few more months, by his calculation, before we had this condition under control. I was devastated, but determined to be treated.

The MRI came back clear of tumors and MS.  For that I am thankful.  But the pain was tremendous for a long time.   I am happy to say that the pain is for the most part controlled now and the side effects few.

This is a scary condition to have.  One that usually hits those in their 70s and 80s.  But I am glad that there are places like OHSU that give assistance to people like me, who are caught in the system.