“Give me the ‘McFacts,’ ma’am, nothing but the McFacts!” So argued the defense a
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“Give me the ‘McFacts,’ ma’am, nothing but the McFacts!” So argued the defense attorney for McDonald’s Corporation as she questioned Stella Liebeck, an 81 year-old retired sales clerk, two years after her initial lawsuit against McDonald’s claiming that it served dangerously hot coffee. Liebeck had bought a 49-cent cup of coffee at the drive-in window of an Albuquerque McDonald’s, and while removing the lid to add cream and sugar, she spilled the coffee and suffered third-degree burns of the groin, inner thighs, and buttocks. Her suit claimed that the coffee was “defective.” During the trial, the plaintiffs argued that in testing the coffee at other local restaurants none was found to come closer than 20 degrees to the temperature at which McDonald’s coffee is poured (about 180 degrees Fahrenheit). The jury decided in favor of Liebeck and awarded her compensatory damages of $200,000, which they reduced to $160,000 after determining that 20 percent of the fault belonged with Liebeck for spilling the coffee. The jury then found that McDonald’s had engaged in willful, reckless, malicious, or wanton conduct, the basis for punitive damages. It awarded $2.7 million in punitive damages. That amount was ultimately reduced by the presiding judge to $480,000. The parties then settled out of court for an unspecified amount reported to be less than the $480,000.
For its part, McDonald’s had suggested that Liebeck caused (or contributed to) her injuries by holding the cup between her legs and not removing her clothing immediately.
Who is to blame for the McSpill? Why? Be sure to support your answer with a discussion of personal responsibility and corporate accountability through the use of ethical reasoning.