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Stella LIEBECK v. MCDONALD'S Restaurants



Tommy Y. Choi

May 15th, 2013

Individual Paper: Week #7


A frivolous lawsuit emphasizes legal claims that do not have any legal value and most frivolous cases do not even reach the courtroom. Frivolous lawsuits abuse the law, court process, and once a court recognizes a lawsuit that is labeled frivolous, it is dismissed or amended. Most cases that are labeled as frivolous normally do not institute any sufficient grounds, causes major stress plus embarrassment to the defendant, and could become very expensive for both parties. Most lawsuits that are instigated spitefully with no real probable cause by the individual who are upset and feel that they deserve monetary rewards for what has happened. In some cases, such an action might be brought in bad faith for the purpose of harassing the defendant (Frivolous, (2005).

There are a couple frivolous lawsuits, that people have heard or read, are: Stella Liebeck V. McDonald's and Roy Pearson V. Soo Chung. The following is to review the facts of both lawsuits along with the issues, ethical issues, laws that were applied, and the decisions that the court and presiding judge has ruled over these lawsuits. The initial thought of both of these lawsuits will make any individual believe that the plaintiff is making outrageous claims and accusations but will the information presented change the individuals mind? Could the defendant, business owners, avoided or prevented the lawsuits brought against them? The facts of both court cases determined the outcome of these lawsuits.

In the case, Liebeck v. McDonald's, which is known as the McDonald's Coffee Case, is one of the most well-known frivolous lawsuits. Stella Liebeck is the McDonald's customer that spilled hot McDonald's coffee on your lap in which she sustained third-degree burns on several parts of her lower torso and won the multi-million dollar lawsuit for her injuries (Gerlin, 1994). In the lawsuit, Pearson v. Chung, involved Roy Pearson, a administrative law judge in D.C, where he had taken a pair of pants to Customer Cleaners, owned by Soo Chung, for alterations and cleaning; Pearson sued Chung for the lost of his high dollar dress pants along with violations of the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act (CPPA) for the signs displayed inside Customer Cleaners (Lexis-Nexis, 2008).

What are the facts?

The facts of Stella Liebeck versus McDonald's involve a 79 year-old, elderly woman from Albuquerque, NM named Stella Liebeck. Ms. Liebeck was a passenger of her grandson's car and went through the McDonald's drive-thru in February 1992. Liebeck ordered a cup of McDonald's coffee and Liebeck's grandson proceeded to drive off but stopped the vehicle in order for Liebeck to add cream and sugar to her McDonald's coffee. Most people believed that the car was in motion while Liebeck was trying to open the lid off her coffee but the truth is that the car was stationed and in park (Cain, 2008). Liebeck had difficulty opening the lid to her coffee with her hands so placed the coffee between her legs to get leverage to open the lid (Cain, 2008). As she proceeded to open the lid off coffee with the cup between her legs, she accidently spilled the entire cup of coffee all over her lower torso region, soaking through the sweatpants that she was wearing, and immediately injuring her with the scalding hot coffee that McDonald's just served her. The temperature of the McDonald's coffee was recorded to be between the temperatures of 180oF (82.22oC) to 190oF (87.78oC) (Cain, 2008). McDonald's franchises are very strict with the practices of each franchisee that operates a McDonald's. McDonald's policies on brewing coffee requires franchises to prepare coffee in high temperatures, based on recommendations of coffee consultants and industry groups that say hot temperatures are necessary to fully extract the flavor during brewing (Gerlin, 1994). Due to the high temperatures of McDonald's hot coffee, Liebeck was inflicted with major third-degree burns to her inner thighs, groin area, and buttocks (Gerlin, 1999). The scalding coffee caused to her skin was a lot more severe than a younger individual would endure due to her aged, fragile skin (Cain, 2008). After being treated at the hospital for eight days, the road to recovery took as long as a couple years for Liebeck. The severity of her injuries results in major skin graft surgery to help reconstruct the severely damaged skin. The medical costs that accumulated during the whole process totaled well over $20,000. Liebeck filed a suit against McDonald's seeking compensation for all medical bills plus pain and suffering, totaling $90,000 from the injuries caused by McDonald's coffee but McDonald's submitted a counter-offer that was extremely low of only $800 (Gerlin, 1999). Due to McDonald's counter-offer to only pay out $800, Liebeck then hired Texas attorney who handled many McDonald's coffee cases and truly believed that the coffee served at McDonald's is too hot for their customers.

The facts that lead to the lawsuit, Roy Pearson versus Jin Chung, Soo Chung, and Ki Chung included a pair of expensive dress pants along with two-signs that "Guaranteed Satisfaction" and "Same-Day Service" (Lexis-Nexis, 2008). Roy Pearson, an attorney and Washington, D.C. administrative judge was a patron of the Chungs since October 1999 and the Chung's are immigrants of South Korea that immigrated to the United States of America in 1992. The Chungs opened up Customer Cleaners in 2000in NW D.C. on Bladenburgs Road, trying to create a better life for themselves here in the United States. Pearson sued Customer Cleaners for $67 million for losing a pair of expensive pants he gave to Customer Cleaners for alterations and cleaning. Pearson was acting as his own attorney while the Chungs hired Attorney Christopher Manning to represent them in this lawsuit. On May 3rd, 2005, Pearson used Customer Cleaners to alter and clean a pair of his suit pants but the Chung apparently tried to substitute the pants Pearson originally gave as the original pair (Lexis-Nexis, 2008). Soo Chung denied that the pants they were substituted and remained confident that the pants


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