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Even if you have no interest in law, you’ve probably heard about the infamous “hot coffee case” from friends. Here’s what most people think happened: A woman bought a coffee from McDonald’s, spilled it on herself, and made millions of dollars. As often happens with word-of-mouth tales, the reality is a lot more complicated than the myth. “Hot Coffee,” a 2011 documentary, seeks to untangle what really happened.
Stella Liebeck is the plaintiff the world knows as “the hot coffee lady.” After ordering a coffee from a McDonald’s drive-thru, she sat in her parked car and took the lid off. With 16 percent of her body covered in burns, Stella incurred $10,000 in medical bills. She wrote a letter asking for McDonald’s to cover the cost, with no intention whatsoever to sue. When McDonald’s offered a paltry $800, Stella had no choice but to talk to a lawyer. “I was not it in for the money,” Stella says. “I was in it because I wanted them to bring the temperature down, so other people would not go through the same thing I did.”
Stella’s legal team discovered that not only was McDonald’s serving coffee at 180–190 degrees, far above the standard brew temperature, but also that over 700 people had complained about burns. Ken Wagner, Stella’s lawyer, describes McDonald’s behavior as “callous and indifferent.” The result, then, was far from a rip-off. It was the logical conclusion of the legal process, decided by a jury of regular citizens.
So, if that’s what really happened, then why did so many people come away thinking of Stella as an old lady eager to sue? “Hot Coffee” suggests a number of reasons. First, the media jumped on the story immediately and distorted public perception. Second, that’s exactly what McDonald’s wanted. Think about it: if they can portray regular people as all too willing to file a frivolous lawsuit, they protect themselves from further cases.
If you’ve ever heard of this famous case and wanted to know the truth, “Hot Coffee” will prove to be an enlightening and exciting documentary.
Want to hear more interesting legal stories like this one? Join the Emery Advisor Newsletter. This story is found in the December 2017 edition.
Why I strive to Connet With Clients
Like many people, I hate going to the dentist. It’s an uncomfortable experience that makes me feel powerless. I don’t know anything about dentistry, and that lack of clarity can lead to anxiety. When a dentist or hygienist goes out of their way to explain what they’re doing and make me feel comfortable with the process, I feel much better about the whole thing. Just that little extra effort really puts my mind at ease.
I bring this up because we try to do the same thing here at Emery Law Office. Our goal is to clear the fog surrounding legal issues so that you can focus on what really matters: getting better. We have some weird laws in Kentucky, and I wouldn’t expect anyone outside the legal profession to be able to parse them. When somebody comes into our office, it’s usually the first time they’re dealing with a major auto accident. They’re stressed, confused, and in need of a helping hand. We strive to provide that hand.
More than that, though, we want to learn about our clients as people. Maybe it’s a Kentucky thing, but I rarely have a meeting with a client where all we talk about is their case. Now, don’t get me wrong, we leave no stone unturned when it comes to being diligent in our work. But our clients aren’t just case file numbers; they’re members of our community. Maybe they’re having trouble with their teenager, and I’ll think “Hey, I’ve been there.” I’ll offer a word of encouragement, because I know how hard that phase can be. “I can tell you from experience,” I’ll say, “that they don’t stay teenagers forever.” This sort of personal connection seems out of the ordinary in our industry, but in my opinion, it should be the norm.
This white-glove service extends to every member of our team. On top of getting to meet wonderful people, I get to work alongside a talented, dedicated staff every day. We all believe in what we do, and nobody hesitates to go above and beyond for the people we are lucky enough to serve.
Gestures like these may not be grand or fancy, but they mean a lot to us. We’re representing people going through a tough time, and it matters that we show all the care and compassion we can. Meeting and helping people, after all, is why I got into law in the first place.
- Melissa Emery
Join the Emery Advisor Newsletter. This article is found in the December 2017 edition.