Remember the Coffee Lady?
The 30 something mom who ended up a millionaire after she spilled coffee in her lap? Remember how she got a cup of hot coffee from McDonald's, then tried to open it while driving, and then--duhhh, it spilled, and ouch, it hurt, and voila, she's in court suing Ronald McDonald for serving her exactly what she asked for -- Hot Coffee?
Well, It's a lie.
The Coffee Lady's name was Stella Leibeck. She was seventy-nine years old when her son handed her a styrofoam cup of coffee with one of those obnoxious peel-back lids (think 1990's.) She was in the back of her son's parked car, attempting to open the lid when it spilled. Mrs. Leibeck suffered life threatening third-degree burns on her legs and buttocks. She was in the hospital eight days and required skin grafts. Mrs. Leibeck sued McDonald's only after they refused to settle with her. She sought $20,000 to pay for medical expenses not covered by insurance. McDonald's offered only $800.
In court it came out that McDonald's - by policy - keeps its coffee between 180 and 190 degrees. Asked if one could drink coffee that is 180 degrees, a McDonald's rep told the jury, "not without getting burned." Getting burned appears to be a pretty common past time at the Golden Arches. Prior to this lawsuit McDonald's had over 700 complaints from coffee-scalded customers. A twelve member jury, seeing all the evidence, awarded Liebeck 2.7 million dollars in punitive damages, (two days worth of coffee sales at McDonald's.) The judge lowered that amount to $480,000.
Those are the facts.
Why is this important? Because my bet is that you did not know these facts. Instead, what you probably knew was an intentionally distorted story presented by Mcdonald's, the media, and even the federal government all geared to do one thing: spur your anger at the greedy, lawsuit loving counter-culture that makes it impossible to do business in America. What they were aiming for and got were people willing and ready to clammer for "Tort Reform."
The story of McDonald's and their negligence sits with four other riveting tales of deceit, manipulation and corporate overstepping in the new HBO Documentary HOT COFFEE by Susan Saladoff.
Saladoff shines a bright beam of light on the quiet war corporations have waged on consumer's access to the courts. The truth is, corporate america HATES juries. Why? Because they can't buy them. They can buy a million dollar legal team, expert testimony, high tech audio visuals, fancy suits and cars and jets and junkets to far off islands to entertain out-of-touch politicians, but they can not buy a jury. Their answer to this gnatty little problem is to make it impossible for Mr. Joe Blow, who has just lost his arm in his mower, to sue.
Jury Trial Waivers and Arbitration laws.
Look at your cell phone contract, your credit card contracts, your rental agreements, your extended warrantees, even your dog grooming contract may be loaded with language like this:
THIS AGREEMENT INCLUDES A JURY TRIAL WAIVER AND AN ARBITRATION PROVISION. IN THE EVENT OF A DISPUTE BETWEEN YOU AND US: (1) THE JURY TRIAL WAIVER WILL ELIMINATE THE RIGHT TO A TRIAL BY JURY; AND 2) UNLESS YOU ACT PROMPTLY TO REJECT IT, THE ARBITRATION PROVISION WILL SUBSTANTIALLY AFFECT YOUR RIGHTS, INCLUDING YOUR RIGHT TO BRING, JOIN IN OR PARTICIPATE IN CLASS PROCEEDINGS.
I found this today in the little pamphlet Victoria Secrets included with my new credit card.
The secret they do not disclose is that arbitration while having a nice, almost friendly ring to it, (think mediation but with an A) is rigged. Arbitrators are chosen by the corporation, and their decisions are binding. Decide in a consumer's favor, and an arbitrator may find themselves flipping hamburgers. In other words under arbitration no trial, no jury, no appeal, no balance, no frickin' rights what-so-ever. There is no winning.
Susan Saladoff was a trial lawyer, so many may claim she has an ax to grind. Arbitration clauses, after all, could put trial lawyers out of work. But I say let her grind her ax. Isn't it better to know one can grind an ax, and go to court if the grind fails and flings that blade back in your face?
Here is the link to the Hot Coffee Web site: http://hotcoffeethemovie.com/
You can watch a clip of the film there. You can also go to the take action page and learn what you can do to protect your rights to the courts.
One thing you really should do right away is check your contracts and IF you can reject the arbitration clause, do so.
Below is a copy of the letter I just sent off to Victoria Secrets. It's not that I anticipate having to sue VC for emotional distress because I do not look as sexy as their surgically enhanced models. It's just that I find it unethical for anyone to take away my right to sue. Period. End of story. Feel free to copy this letter, use, and share widely.
As Ann Landers used to say, "It's time to wake up and smell the coffee...."
July 13, 2011
XYZ Credit Card
World Financial Network National Bank
State, City ZIP
To Whom it may concern,
This is to inform you that XYZ card holder, Ravin Madd (acct # XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX,) hereby REJECTS the arbitration agreement as defined in section 30 of the “XYZ” card agreement.
In addition Ravin Madd OPTS OUT of your sharing any personal information with nonaffiliates for marketing purposes.
Thank you for your careful attention to this request.
Make sure to sign here....