How A Lawsuit Over Hot Coffee Helped Erode the 7th Amendment


Another insightful article by Priceonomics on supposedly frivolous law suits in the US.

In 1992, an elderly woman in New Mexico bought coffee at a McDonald’s drive through, spilled it on herself, and successfully sued for nearly $3 million.

This story is the poster child for the absurdity of the American legal system. Nearly every late night comic has a bit about suing over hot coffee. In a Seinfeld episode, Kramer burns himself while hiding coffee in his pants as he enters a movie theater. “You’re gonna walk out of [the courtroom] a rich man,” his lawyer tells him confidently as they prepare to sue the coffee shop.

The anecdote is also popular with politicians. “We’re a litigious society,” George Bush told supporters while advocating for legislation to curtail frivolous lawsuits. “But there have to be limits.”

There’s just one problem: the story is incredibly distorted. The elderly New Mexico resident, Stella Liebeck, was not greedy and her lawsuit was not frivolous. In fact, it’s an example of America’s civil justice system working as intended.

The complete article

Alex Mayyasi

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