Type: Business
Pages: 12 | Words: 3422
Reading Time: 15 Minutes

The endeavor of every business enterprise is to minimize costs in its operations so as to maximize the gains. Nevertheless, business practices need to meet ethical standard to reduce the instances of losses, damages, and injuries. Various legislations have been enacted to make products safe for use by the employees as well as the customers. Despite taking all the necessary precautions, mistakes may still occur at some instances along the business life. Unfortunately, these mistakes are frequently viewed as negligence, and negligence is an insufficient defense in a civil lawsuit. By and large, issues of negligence are raised when a customer incurs a loss, such as damage to personal possessions, or sustains injury. Statistics indicate that there is a rise in the number injuries resulting from coffee burn. The argument has been that the McDonald’s coffee is too hot to salvage the situation whenever a spill occurs and in spite of the facts being readily apparent, the company’s management has been showing unwillingness to remedy the situation (Boudreau & McClave, 2008).

Usually, these injuries are inflicted as the customers attempt to get off the lid, and especially when such attempts happen to be made in environments that do not conform to the necessary safeguards. This may be in a car, as it happened to Stella Liebeck. Nevertheless, coffee being sold at the McDonald’s is meant to be in a form that facilitates takeaway and, as such, it is presumable that the customers may partake of them while being in an uncomfortable situation. The company, therefore, must put in place all precautionary measures so as to minimize the degree of severity whenever an accident occurs. As it has been indicated in the case, there are several occasions when burns occur. In some instances, burns have been such severe that they have been classified as being of the third degree, as is the case with Stella Liebeck’s situation (Kendall, 2005).

Stella Liebeck’s Case Against McDonald’s

This research paper focuses on the issue surrounding the case of Stella Liebeck against McDonald’s. It commences with the major issues that surrounds the case prior proceeding to the manner in which McDonald’s need to enhance its obligation to the customers. Similarities and differences between coffee and pickle burn cases are highlighted in an endeavor to weight their relative severity. This aids in the determination of how fast food companies ought to handle cases of burns so as to mitigate the severity. Towards the conclusion, the paper evaluates the Stella Awards and the associated cases as well as their impact on the number of burn cases (Kendall, 2005).

Although jurisdictions interpret lawsuits differently, every negligence suit must have the following elements: duty of care, breach of duty, actual and proximate cause, and scope of liability. Failure to prove any of these elements will render the case in admissible, which means that the determination of whether these cases were frivolous or not cannot be accomplished without a thorough consideration of the said elements.

In Liebeck’s case, the jury did evaluate whether the harm was foreseeable. In this regard, McDonald’s defend indicated that the management was aware that such cases do occur, though quite infrequently. The jury determined that the management breached its obligations, especially after having been informed of the same on several occasions. The jury accommodated every reasonable objective and subjective view to a point of advising the parties to seek an out of court settlement to no avail.

All along, it was evident that McDonald’s saw nothing to be remorseful about, even after the complainant had suffered a third degree burn as well as huge financial cost and the associated pain.  It was evident that the management knowingly exposed Liebeck to a significant level of risk that resulted to her loss. The case was be interpreted as being one of a breach of duty. This was despite the defense attorney’s argument that the complainant was not reasonably careful while dealing with the product, a failure that resulted into her injury. In that case, the ruling was necessary as it prompted McDonald’s to seek audience with the complainant, in a more or less the same manner that the judge had indicated earlier (Carroll & Buchholtz, 2012).

Liebeck’s case was important as it prompted debate over temperature of the fast foods. This is especially so since these products are available to all categories of people including the senior citizens, children, and the disabled. The case of the Californian woman who filed a lawsuit against the McDonald in 2000 appeared to be quite straight-forward, as compared to the one of Liebeck. The complainant, Karen Muth, was not the handler of the cup that spilled, and this made her appear to be an undisputed victim of the circumstance. Muth, just like Liebeck, was asking for a mere $10,000 as compensation for her pain and suffering as well as for the purpose of offsetting the incurred medical bills. Recognizing the seriousness of the case, McDonalds opted to tackle the case in an out of court settlement, a development that was attributable to the manner in which the Liebeck’s case deteriorated (Carroll & Buchholtz, 2012).

As much as the customers seek to purchase quality products, their safety should not be compromised for the excellence of the commodities being offered. It is in this regard that, in August 2000, the British solicitors argued that some of the beverages being offered in the market were excessively hot. Individuals get concerned since the products being offered are for ordinary consumption and they should not, therefore, be extremely dangerous even when they happen to be mishandled. McDonald’s and other fast-food companies have been prompted to handle their consumers’ complaints with out-of-court settlements due to the penalties that they are likely to attract when taken before juries (Cross & Miller, 2009).

Liebeck’s and the succeeding cases were justly settled since they facilitate the mitigation of dangers that various unsuspecting clients would suffer. In addition to compensating for the loss suffered, the handling of such cases is meant to act as deterrence; and these scenarios may, actually, help avert much severe injuries.

McDonald’s Social and Legal Responsibility

While manufacturing products, McDonald’s need to proceed cautiously, and with the awareness that its engagements do affect the society. In order to be regarded as being socially responsible, a company should not engage in activities that add to the health care burden that the society has to carry. Social responsibility incorporates the issue of personal behavior as well as the behavior of the organization as a whole. In this regard, companies are encouraged to have integrity and conduct their businesses in a manner that the management feels it is morally appropriate. This, therefore, calls on all stakeholders to enhance their awareness of the impacts of that the products they offer have on everyone and everything around them, both on the local as well as on the global scale.

McDonald’s and other fast food companies need to engage in the manufacturing of those products that facilitate the advancement of the economic status of the society. Fast-foods enable people to attend to urgent matters without having to worry about, say, when to prepare breakfast or lunch. This advances the economic growth since the utilization of the working hours is optimized. Nevertheless, as much as these companies seek to offer services that would match the wishes of most customers, they need to evaluate the how severe an accident would be. This would facilitate the assessment of the economic derailment that would result if the frequency of the accidents increases. Considering the case of Liebeck, two of her daughters had to care for her in turns. This means that the economic activities that they were supposed to be engaging in had to be put on hold. Such derailments are inevitable in case of an accident, and it is for this reason that the frequency of accidents need to be minimized (Boudreau & McClave, 2008).

Legal responsibility is a situation where the company is expected to follow the law incisively. At times, McDonald’s have appeared to disregard consumer protection measures. This gives the complainants an opportunity to file lawsuits which, in most instances, end up costing substantial amount of money in compensation. Nevertheless, there are instances when the government happens to have failed the society for failing to define and enact laws in a clear and concise manner. In fact, had it not for the Liebeck case, debates over temperature would not have been taking place. This would have kept the consumers as well as the economy under threat due to negligence of the entrepreneurs.

McDonald’s as well as other fast-food companies are expected to be honest to their customers. The customers need to be clearly advised on how to handle the products that they purchase. The companies do also need to inform the clients on the dangers involved with mishandling as this would help keep them alert. This would minimize the number and the severity of accidents as the products would be handled more keenly as is the case at the present.

A significant number of accidents are blamed on consumer negligence. As such, consumers have the responsibility of seeking to know the dangers involved when products are mishandled. The company’s effort to inform the clients of the dangers associated with the products on sale would be futile if the information being presented is not heeded to by the customers. Moreover, the customers need not to compromise their safety and security for taste and quality. It is important for all parties to heed to the experts’ advice regarding the dangers involved with handling, say, beverages that have a temperature of over a certain limit. If need be, the company may offer a variety of products so as to suit the taste of most customers; reserving the very hot products for those who happen to insist on them.

Decision Regarding Liebeck’s Case

During the Liebeck case, I am of the opinion that the jury facilitated the most appropriate judgement. McDonald’s had failed to heed to the calls for the reduction of temperature, and even after the case, there is no evidence to indicate that the company reconsidered the view of offering the extremely hot beverages. The judgment was, therefore, justified and; even if it could not have forced a policy change at the company, the company began addressing consumer complaints with an enhanced level of seriousness.

During the Liebeck’s case, McDonald’s kept defending its position. This continued even after it was already apparent that negligence could have prompted the accident. The defense attorney failed to appreciate that being takeaways, McDonald’s coffee and hamburger could be partaken from a host of locations. In fact, taking coffee while sited in a car was not unusual and, as such, the company would have instituted some enhanced measures with a view of protecting the customers (Cross & Miller, 2009).

With regard to the pickle case, Veronica Martin was justified to seek legal redress for her loss. Indeed, unless it had been explicitly stated, McDonald’s is obliged to handle all losses that result from logical causes. Although the amount appears to be excessive, the right to file lawsuits cannot be understated as t is for the jury to arrive at the most appropriate figure. However, Darrin’s argument amounts to trumped-up charges and as a jury, I would advocate for its dropping. As much as juries seek to correct the community, it is important for the judge to avert a ruling that would seem to encourage unjustified claims or self inflicted injuries.

The fact that hot coffee and pickle inflicts injuries to the victims makes the two products dangerous, especially if they are handled carelessly. The safety and precaution measures that need to be instituted in the two instances have some similarities. For instance, the company ought to appreciate that offering too hot products is unethical, and they could derail economic activities that the victims could be engaging in. In both instances, warning messages and signs ought to be made explicit so that the parties involved can be informed. Additionally, the measures that the company needs to undertake so as to be exonerated from such claims are similar in the two instances. Nevertheless, there are some differences.

Burns being inflicted by hot coffee tend to be more severe than those that result from hot pickles. This is because being a liquid, coffee is able to propagate burns to a wider extent as compared to pickles. Additionally, coffee need to be handled with enhanced care since a slight disturbance can prompt spillage and, consequently, severe burns. Cases relating to injuries that have been inflicted by any of the products are likely to be handled in a similar manner. This means that precaution needs to be taken in the two cases irrespective of the degree of injury that may result.

As stated earlier, there ought to be a variety of products in the market especially with regard to the temperature of the products. Otherwise, the temperature of the products may need to be lowered to a manageable level so that even if accidents occur, the victim does not suffer to an abnormal degree. Besides the incorporation of warning messages to the product packaging, the company needs to hold a sensitization campaign in an endeavor to disseminate information relating to the best way of handling these products. Consumers do also need to be informed that the contents can cause great injuries when mishandled. These messages need to be so explicit that it would be virtually impossible to escape notice. Finally, it is necessary for the company to seek the views of the stakeholders before formulating policies which would introduce risk, no matter how insignificant that risk may be (Brennan, 2009).

The Degree of Danger

The term Stella Awards represents the recognitions that were made to individuals who filed frivolous and outrageous lawsuits between the year 2002 and 2007. They have been named after Liebeck due to the popularity that resulted after she was awarded a significantly high financial compensation.  The assessment of the awards exposes how individuals have been misusing the avenue of legal redress with their ridiculous and outrageous lawsuits. Soliciting for cases to be awarded such awards was stopped after it was realized that such an undertaking was encouraging deceit through self-inflicted injuries. Such cases water-down the seriousness of the problem of burn injuries and, should it continue in a frantic manner, genuine cases may be lost. It is for this reason that the issuing of the Stella Awards appeared to be damaging to the preventive as well as correctional measures as it could, actually, empower the defendants argument of self-inflicted injuries (Hoffman, 2008; Cross & Miller, 2009).

Business enterprises are not entirely to blame. Some customers are known to have handled products carelessly, thereby inducing injuries. In cases where the jury realizes that injuries could have been averted, it would be unjustified to hold the company responsible. Nevertheless, whenever a product injures an individual as a result of a fault in its manufacture or design, any of the commercial party involved in its sale or distribution may be held liable for that injury.  This is particularly so when manufacturer had failed to instruct or warn about the danger. Such a tort is, in some instances, grounded on negligence. Tort of this nature relies on the law which allows imposition of liability even when negligence or intent to injure hasn’t been established. This law is referred to as strict products liability. The philosophy of strict products liability allows the victims who have been injured by a product to sue for damages, regardless of the amount of care taken by the manufacturer (Cross & Miller, 2009).

In some jurisdiction, the degree of danger does not matter; any exposure to a chance of injury gives rise to a claim of product liability. However, there are special defenses that apply to the tort of product liability. For instance, in an increasing number of states, a fluctuation in the codification of limitations prevents complainants from suing for injuries caused by a defective product. This is usually the case if a specified duration of time had passed since the commodity was marketed, no matter when the victim was injured. Nevertheless, some states disregard this view on the basis that such a statute may subsequently prevent damage recovery in several instances (Brennan, 2009).

Critics of these statutes argue that it would be beneficial to allow the manufacturer to claim product misuse in his defense. Such a defense would, in fact, be logical, especially when a victim is injured while using the product in a manner that a reasonable manufacturer could not anticipate at the time of the injury. Moreover, a manufacturer may indicate that he notified of the danger, and prove that it was the victim who failed to read and abide by the regulations of use. If it is demonstrated that harm was avoidable through complying with the manufacturer’s advice, the accuser may fail to recover damages (Brennan, 2009).

Many members of the society are growing older. In that case, there should be a special responsibility on every merchant who sell any product to the senior citizens to ensure that they understand the dangerous involved in handling the said product. In essence, strict liability needs to be applied where the senior citizens are involved. Rather than focusing on manufacturer’s negligence, claims of strict liability focus on the commodity itself. As such, strict liability stipulates that the manufacturer is, at all times, held liable whenever a product injures a consumer, even in situations where the manufacturer was careful to avoid faults in the product.

Products Liability Suit

The concept of negligence should not be applied whenever the senior citizens are involved. This is because with negligence, the complainant will have to prove that the accused party’s conduct was below the anticipated standard of attention. In a scenario where the entire industry openly disregards standards in its conduct, then the accuser may fail to recover the damages, no matter the severity of the injuries; and this is not fair where children or the senior citizens are involved. These categories of people ought to be taken care of in a special way since they may fail to notice or heed to the warning messages even when they happen to be on the packaging (Brennan, 2009; Kendall, 2005).

During the formulation of a products liability suit, a plaintiff should sue all the entities that help in placing an unreasonably defective commodity in the market. This is because these entities have profited from negligence and, therefore, should be responsible for any damage that results from negligence. It is for this reason that suing McDonald is justified. In order to justify a case before the jury, a consumer must indicate that the injury was caused by defects in the product. Extra hotness is a defect in the sense that it has the potential of causing severe burns (Brennan, 2009).

Some of the products that McDonald’s company offers are in the nature that is unsuitable for use. This is because, despite being on rare occasions, accidents do happen; and when they do, severe burns results. This indicate that the product was either inappropriate for use, or their design had been defective. For instance, even when the temperature happens to be moderate, a user should not struggle to open since, apart from burns, spills do also stain clothing. The paper has indicated that the success of one lawsuit prompts several other related cases as the hope of success is enhanced. Liebeck’s case inspired related cases in both America and Europe since the complainants realized that it is legally possible to get justice. Every company has the social, legal, economic, and ethical responsibilities towards its customers and the society. These responsibilities are defined in a manner that enhances comfort during the interaction between parties. Meeting its obligations makes the company likeable, and this also prompts the customers to meet their own responsibilities while purchasing products (Brennan, 2009; Boudreau & McClave, 2008).

According to Case 23, Stella had no intentions of enriching herself through pain. Indeed, she had not wished to be famous. All she sought from the company was the enhancement of the safety measures so as to avert such cases. The initial amount she was seeking as compensation was so insignificant to prompt any improvement in her lifestyle. Nevertheless, it appears as if she felt obliged to discourage products with such temperatures so that other people may not suffer her fate. Even so, her case did prompt a number of frivolous ones, a situation which ended-up making the Stella Awards appear to be encouraging deceit. In this regard, cases of compensation ought to be carefully considered before judgement is handed down.

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