Corporations Are Working to Destroy One of the Few Tools We Have to Stop Their Abusive Behavior
Everyone has heard of the woman who spilled coffee on herself and won $3 million from McDonald’s. Perhaps you recall an editorial similar to the one that ran in the San Diego Union Tribune: “A winning lottery ticket…absurd… a stunning illustration of what’s wrong with America’s civil justice system.”
I saw the injuries. One look was all it took. An 82-year-old woman with such severe burns on the insides of her upper thighs, inches from her vagina, that they required skin grafts. You can see it too, in the documentary Hot Coffee, when it’s released. Hot Coffee is the most exciting movie ever made about tort reform.
The jury found out that McDonald’s served their coffee at temperatures between 195 and 205 degrees, “high enough to peel skin off bone in seven seconds or less.” They found out from McDonald’s own files that there had been 700 previous burn incidents serious enough that people had made formal complaints. The woman in the case only wanted her medical bills paid. The jury thought money might get McDonald’s to change its behavior, because burning at least 700 people hadn’t seemed to bother the company.
That’s what the courts and civil suits are for. To make whoever broke it pay for the damage that’s been done. The courts are also the only place where we—as ordinary, individual citizens—can force other individuals and corporations—tobacco, automobile, chemical, pharmaceutical, insurance, and banking—to open their books and divulge at least the recorded truth, often a history of previous offenses and cover-ups.
The courts are a way to make bad behavior—injurious, even murderous acts—cost enough to make a corporation stop.
Without lawsuits we wouldn’t know that tobacco companies knew that cigarettes caused cancer even while they advertised them as healthy; that Firestone tires made Ford SUVs roll over; that the Catholic Church harbored and protected hundreds of pedophile priests; that Vioxx damaged people’s hearts and killed them.