Legal Briefing: McDonald's Hot-Coffee Case Sequel -- Hot Chocolate

legal briefing
legal briefing

A daily look at legal news and the business of law:

McDonalds Sued for Too-Hot Chocolate

The infamous McDonald's (MCD) coffee lawsuit has a sequel. The Chicago Tribune reports that a mother has sued McDonald's because hot chocolate she got her daughter at the drive-through didn't have its lid on properly and spilled on her daughter's leg, burning her badly. The suit alleges "severe pain and scarring" resulted from the spill.

Before disparaging this suit -- and I don't know that it's worthy, either -- it's important to note the facts of the coffee case were rarely reported accurately and that suit is not the poster child for "tort reform" most made it out to be. As the 'Lectric Law Library relates, the elderly woman burned was not the car's driver, nor was the car in motion at the time of the accident. The coffee was "scalding" hot, i.e. "capable of almost instantaneous destruction of skin, flesh and muscle." And indeed, the woman suffered third-degree burns, was hospitalized eight days and needed skin grafts.

After McDonald's refused to settle the grandmother's claim for $20,000, it went to trial. At trial, she showed McDonald's deliberately served coffee at 180 to 190 degrees Farenheit in order to maintain flavor -- coffee at home is some 50 degrees cooler, and burn hazard goes up sharply at 140 degrees -- and knew that its hot coffee caused injuries. How did it know? Some 700 people had been burned -- that McDonalds was aware of -- over 10 years. On those facts, it's not surprising the grandmother won her case.

Will the hot chocolate case reveal a similarly deliberate, dangerous policy on the part of McDonald's to serve scalding hot chocolate?

Ripples from Supreme Court Skilling Decision Continue to Spread

The New York Times has a nice summary of the continuing impact of the Supreme Court's decision to sharply narrow the "honest services" fraud statute. So far, some indictments have been dropped, such as in the Westar "Kansas Enron" case. Some indictments have been maintained, as in the lobbyist Kevin Ring case. The conviction of Joseph Ferreiro, a New Jersey political figure, has been vacated, and many other convictions are being challenged, including Jeff Skilling's, Conrad Black's, former New York lawmaker Joe Bruno's and trial lawyer David Zachary Scruggs.

And in the Business of Law

Fee fight! Gertrude Rothschild, a retired Columbia physics professor and inventor, is trading lawsuits with Troutman Sanders, one of its partners, and the partner's former firm over some $4.4 million in fees for their defense of her patents, reports the New York Law Journal. She accuses the attorneys of "misuse of escrowed funds, misappropriation, overcharges, illegal mark-ups, excessive fees and other billing irregularities" and wants $10 million from them, plus a declaration voiding the $4.4 million in fees. The attorneys, however, note they won her significant settlements, and she never complained about their representation of her. They just want to get paid.

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP is raising associate salaries for second-year associates and up, reports Legal Pad. First-years will still make the currently standard $160,000.