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Liebeck V. Mcdonald’s and Pearson V. Custom Cleaners Legal Case Analysis

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Liebeck v. McDonald’s and Pearson v. Custom Cleaners Legal Case Analysis
AMBA 610 9043
University of Maryland University College

Introduction Frivolous lawsuits can be a determent to those who are really seeking justice through the court system. Lawsuits that are frivolous in nature are filed in the court systems that lack legal merit (Frivolous Lawsuit Law & Legal Definition, 2015). Plaintiffs and attorneys who decide to partake in meaningless claims against other parties can anger society by wasting tax payer’s money on cases that are filed and argued with loop holes in litigation (Frivolous Lawsuit Law & Legal Definition, 2015). Evaluating the product and service liability laws will give insight into the two cases that will be discussed in this paper. The two cases covers how product liability effects the consumer and company owners of each industry of businesses. Cases that are brought to courts for product liability is always initiated by the plaintiff who has to prove if the defendant is liable for alleged action claims (Jones, 2015). Two cases that have made an impact on the pursuit of filing frivolous lawsuits is the Liebeck v. McDonald’s and Pearson v. Custom Cleaners case, which will be discussed in further detail throughout this paper. If cases set precedence’s in the court systems, then these two cases show how people can obtain or attempt to collect monies from others that lacks in importance to bringing legal justice per society standards. Case 1: Liebeck v. McDonald's Stella Liebeck a 79 year old consumer went to a McDonald’s drive-thru in Albuquerque New Mexico on 02/27/1992 to purchase a cup of coffee one day (Dedman & Farr, 2011). Upon receiving the cup of coffee Stella made an effort to open the lid of the coffee to add her creamer and sugar; however, in her attempt the contents of the cup spilled on her lap, which resulted in severe third degree burns on her legs (Kennedy, 2013). The third degree burns initiated Ms. Liebeck being admitted into the hospital for seven days and she had to forgo skin grafts to correct to her skin. As a result a lawsuit was filed against McDonald’s on March 21, 1993 due to negligence of serving dangerously hot coffee without warning labels and poor manufacturing of coffee lids (Dedman & Farr, 2011).
There were many complaints brought forth to the judge and jury involving reckless business decisions and poor manufacturing choices. Ms. Liebeck amended her complaint to the court on October 3, 1993 that stated she sued McDonalds claiming the manufacturing of the coffee cup and lids were not safe; in addition, the lids and cups did not have proper warning labels on them (Dedman & Farr, 2011). The defense team tried pointing out how Ms. Liebeck pulled the lid back off of the coffee that was not how the inventors intended for users to use the lids (Kennedy, 2013). In addition, the temperature of the coffee was hazardous causing harm to the consumer, which resulted in third degree burns (Dedman & Farr, 2011). The coffee was too hot for consumption, so the question was asked “why sell coffee at or around temperature was around 180-185 degrees if customers cannot consume at that very moment” (The “McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case”: 20 Years in the Making, 2015). Ms. Liebeck’s attorney made it a point to make mention that his client suffered injuries only because she purchased a coffee from McDonald’s, which makes the defendants liable (Dedman & Farr, 2011).
The laws that were applied to the Liebeck v. McDonald’s case was negligence and disclaimer. McDonald’s was found guilty by the jurors due to negligent failure to warn which relates to design (product defect), failure to test, and inadequate warning (Jones, 2015). The plaintiffs’ attorney focused in on how the product was dangerous to consumers because consumption could cause burns, which is a negligence failure to warn. The courts determine liability of a business by looking at the negligent failure to warn in regards to how serious the injuries are with a person and how often an injury could happen with that type of negligence (Jones, 2015). A company is liable to put picture warnings on products for those who are not able to read the verbiage (Jones, 2015). Negligently designing a product makes a company liable for any injuries; the plaintiffs’ attorney was able to argue how the design of the product contributed to the injuries of the victim. If the court feels like the harm involved in the product outweighs the use of the product then they can be held liable (Jones, 2015).
The judge sitting in on this case was Robert Smith, but the jurors were the ones who decided on the case of Liebeck v. McDonald’s (LIEBECK S VS. MCDONALDS ET AL, 2015). The civil jurors found McDonald’s guilty of negligence and awarded Ms. Liebeck 2.9 million in punitive damages (Kennedy, 2013). Also, the juror’s awarded Ms. Liebeck $200,000 in compensation damages, but the judge reduced it to $40,000 since Ms. Liebeck was partially at fault (Dedman & Farr, 2011). The jurors based their decision that was applicable to the law controlling this case by using the criteria to what qualifies a company in being negligence to actions leading to liability case (Jones, 2015).
The jury’s decision finding the coffee to be flawed due to the temperature was appropriate since that is what Liebeck’s attorney was trying to argue. The plaintiff’s attorney had to prove how the company was negligent in ensuring that customers were not harmed by products from McDonald’s; however, McDonald’s restaurants had several hundred complaints about their coffee products burning customers. Based on the medical treatment given to Ms. Liebeck from the incident of spilling the coffee on her lap can be viewed as a severe case. Ironically the jury found Ms. Liebeck to be twenty percent guilty due to not being more cautious enough (Dedman & Farr, 2011).
Case 2: Pearson v. Custom Cleaners The plaintiff in this case is Roy Pearson who was recently hired as a local administrative law judge. On May 3, 2005 Pearson took a pair of his trouser pants to the local cleaners called Custom Cleaners and was disappointed to find out that his pants got lost due to poor business operations (PEARSON v. CHUNG, 2015). The back story to this case started with Pearson being out of work for a couple of years and he finally received a job as the local administrative judge in DC (Cauvin, 2007). Pearson being recently employed needed to have two of his suits cleaned and altered due to weight gain (Cauvin, 2007). Therefore, Pearson brought his two pants sets to a local shop called Custom Cleaners (Cauvin, 2007). When Pearson went to the cleaners to pick up his suits he was unable to retrieve one piece of clothing due to the company misplacing it (Cauvin, 2007). However, days later Custom Cleaners found Mr. Pearson’s trousers and tried to make things right with the customer, but Pearson refused to accept the pants stating that they were not his pants (PEARSON v. CHUNG, 2015). Custom Cleaners tried reassuring the customer that the pants offered were his because the receipts and record keeping showed those were the pants that Mr. Pearson checked into the establishment. Pearson tried to bargain with the owners of the business to pay him $1,000 for compensation for a new pants suit, but the owners refused to settle on those terms (Cauvin, 2007). As a result, Pearson filed a lawsuit against Custom Cleaners since they gave their customers a warranty by stating “Satisfaction Guaranteed” and Same Day Service, which Mr. Pearson used in his compliant to file a grievance. The issues in the case Pearson v. Custom Cleaners is how a patron of the business was not happy with how the company lost his personal belongings and wanted the company to pay for misleading consumers that they will be satisfied with the company’s service (100% guarantee). It meant a lot to Mr. Pearson to have a business keep their word on the branding mission statement and slogans of the company. Roy Pearson was upset in knowing his pants were lost at Custom Cleaners and even though the owners tried to rectify the situation, Pearson was not satisfied with their solutions. Since Mr. Pearson was not pleased with Custom Cleaners business operations he choose to originally sue them for $67 million due to promoting statements and slogans that were untrue and deceptive to consumers. Later on in the case Pearson reduced his claim by a couple of million dollars. The laws that are applied to this case were the strict liability in contract for breach of warranty, common law fraud, and consumer protection law (Jones, 2015). Breach of warranty occurs when a business promises a service or goods but doesn’t meet the standards of the consumer (Jones, 205). Custom Cleaners gave their customers guarantees of same day service and 100% satisfaction pledge, but they breached their warranty (Jones, 2015). Consumers are protected by law from businesses who are fraudulent or misleading in their products or services. Pearson and his attorney need to prove to the judge that Custom Cleaners had the intent to deceive and falsify their company’s mission statement (PEARSON v. CHUNG, 2015). The plaintiffs’ attorney tried to argue by breaking the promise to customers of a satisfaction guarantee is common law fraud, which is a violation of CPAA (Consumer Protection Association of America) (PEARSON v. CHUNG, 2015). The judge on the case of Pearson v. Custom Cleaners found Custom Cleaners to not be liable for the misplacement of Mr. Person’s pants. The judge found that the company acted in accordance with their own policy and procedures, which does not make them liable for breach of warranty or common law fraud (PEARSON v. CHUNG, 2015). In addition, the judge found that Pearson did not prove how Custom Cleaners Satisfaction Guaranteed slogan is violating Pearson legal rights and breaching the common law fraud act that is protected under the Consumer Protection Act (PEARSON v. CHUNG, 2015). Judge Bartnoff made the appropriate decision in siding with the defendant due to the plaintiff not proving their burden of proof by showing how the company breached warranty and purposely trying to fraud the consumer. The D.C Superior court judge on this case Judith Bartnoff made the appropriate decision on this verdict by not awarding Mr. Pearson any monetary gain from a pair a pants being lost. A business owner should not have to compensate a client with monies that outweigh the value of a product that has been misplaced. If the judge ruling sided with the plaintiff this could have brought a negative outcome to future court cases of consumers or are dissatisfied with services rendered. Compensation to poor service is acceptable, but not over compensation that can ruin a business. Ethical Issues of the Cases
Being ethical can be different for each person depending on their set of morals and beliefs. In legal proceedings being ethical could be considered doing the right thing as a society norm. The ethical issues in this case is how Ms. Liebeck was severely hurt from the coffee scalding her skin, which resulted in third degree burns. When someone is harmed by a product from a company one would assume that the ethical result should be the company paying punitive damages to the person who was harmed. The ethical issues of the Liebeck v. McDonald’s case does not differ from the legal issues involving this case because legally the company is found guilty based on legal definitions of negligence (Jones, 2015). The court determined the negligence of the case by evaluating the danger that came from the selling of a coffee that was dangerously hot causing harm to someone (Jones, 2015).
The ethical and legal issues are slightly different when looking at the case Pearson v. Custom Cleaners. The ethical problems involved in this case vary based on perception of the events. Custom Cleaners should not advertise and market that they offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee and same day service if they cannot honor it. This case highlights how it is unethical to award someone 54 million dollars in corrective action for a pair of lost pants. The legal issues in this case is misconduct of breaching the warranty of the business Custom Cleaners to Roy Pearson. However, Roy Pearson used his expertise with the law to try his hand in obtaining a win with financial gain. Customers who are not satisfied with the businesses services would argue first by using the slogans against the owners. The ethical disputes does have a variance from the legal issues to the ethical issues in this case. Custom Cleaners tried several times to make things right with Mr. Pearson, which shows the owners intent on doing the proper action ethically and legally. The ethical thing a business should have done with the circumstances of this case is to replace the customer’s property and try to offer an incentive for the customer to return. Custom Cleaners gave Mr. Pearson money for his trousers and it corrected the businesses wrong in “misplacing” Mr. Pearson’s property.
Determination if cases are frivolous After researching the case Liebeck v. McDonald’s it brought forth information about how there has been many claims against McDonald’s of their coffee being too hot, which resulted in injuries (McDonald's coffee scalding lawsuit: Burning legal issue or a storm in a coffee cup?, 2013). McDonald’s had over 700 cases filed against them complaining how the coffee had burned adults and children (Dedman & Farr, 2011). If it was determined that the coffee should be at an average temperature of 130 degrees, but McDonald’s prefer to have the temperature at 180-185 degrees due to it lasting longer and tasting fresher for customers. It shows that McDonald’s is acting on what suits them better financially instead of the health and protection of consumers. Although Ms. Liebeck does have to take some responsibility in this ordeal of spilling coffee on her body, but any consumer would not expect to get third degree burns from a coffee purchase. In search of details of the case Pearson v. Custom Cleaners, it can be concluded that the claims presented in this case were frivolous. After several attempts of compromise from Custom Cleaners to try to settle with Mr. Pearson and his rejection to each offer shows he was looking forward to a big payout instead of seeking justice for his claim. Mr. Pearson claimed that losing his pants at the dry cleaners gave him mental anguish, but if he is an administrative judge who deals with the stressors of the job, then he should be able to handle rectifying the problem more effectively. Mr. Pearson requested to be awarded from this case originally $67 million dollars; a small business paying out millions of dollars for a pair of pants is ludacris. Overall, Pearson wanted to use his skills and expertise in the law to try to gain recognition and a payout.
Corrective course of action In hindsight it is easy for people to see how previous choices or decisions could have been done differently. McDonald’s could have taken accountability of the many complaints of coffee burning consumers and ensured that the temperature setting was set to a reasonable setting. If coffee has to be replenished more than often to prevent burns then that should have been the corrective measure used. In addition, McDonald’s could manufacture a cup and lid that helps in the reduction of spilling of contents in the cup. The company could also make sure they have warning labels that are clearly visible on the lids and cup, so consumers cannot place blame on the company. I understand McDonald’s is a huge franchise, but the advice I would give them is to evaluate the claims thoroughly that’s submitted to the company. Ms. Liebeck was willing to settle for an amounts under $50,000, but since the company wasn’t willing to reach a compromise they ended up paying a huge amount out of pocket. Custom Cleaners approached the situation with Roy Pearson effectively to solve the problem at hand. The owners used their processes to find the articles of clothing; however, once the pants were found Pearson denied it was his property. Since Pearson did not want his trouser back and Custom Cleaners knew the customer wasn’t satisfied they offered to pay for the cost for the pants. If any advice could be given to Custom Cleaners it would be to implement a better tracking system for the articles of clothing they take into for servicing. If the company had a detailed tracking system that allowed descriptions of the garments, it could have made things go smoother with the original complaint. In addition, the business should invest in a camera at the counter so it can record the clothing as it is checked into the facility, so if a customer tries to discredit that a pair of clothing isn’t theirs then the owners will have visual proof. Lastly, since the owners have more than one drying cleaning shop and the issue began by the owners sending Mr. Pearson’s pants to their sister company since they specialized in the needs of the cleaning. Custom Cleaners should give customers a tracking number where they can track where their clothes are within their facility and receive a text message or email once the item can be picked up.
Conclusion
Seeking justice from the court systems has been something that citizens have pursued from the early start of colonization and it will continue to be a necessity for society if there is negligence and breaches in laws. As our economy evolves products and services for consumers will not always be accepted as standard or above average quality, which will enable people to try their hand in a law case. Product and service liability law will need to continue to be studied and practiced for frivolous law cases that was discussed in this paper. Business owners should try to avoid future lawsuits against them by trying to develop policy and procedures that avoids carelessness in their operations. The two law cases showcased in this article displays both sides in how judgments can go when presented to the court. Although when reading the headlines of certain litigation cases can come off as frivolous, but once compiling the facts can give someone a different outlook. All-in-all, each case presented to the court is unique in its own way and if a case is considered to be thoughtless to citizens they should be open to listening and reviewing all the facts before making a choice if it is important to case law.

References
AMBA610 Custom Text: Chapters 7 and 8. From Kubasek, N.K., Brennan, B.A., and Browne, M.N.(2015). The Legal Environment of Business: A Critical Thinking Approach (7th ed.). Boston, MA. Pearson Learning Solutions

Cauvin, H. E. (2007, June 26). Court Rules for Cleaners In $54 Million Pants Suit. Retrieved from The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/25/AR2007062500443.html
Dedman, J., & Farr, N. (2011, January 25). The Stella Liebeck McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case FAQ. Retrieved from Abnormal Use: http://abnormaluse.com/2011/01/stella-liebeck-mcdonalds-hot-coffee.html
Frivolous Lawsuit Law & Legal Definition. (2015, February 22). Retrieved from USlegal: http://definitions.uslegal.com/f/frivolous-lawsuit/
Kennedy, P. (2013). Who Made That? CoffeeLid. The New York Times, 17.
LIEBECK S VS. MCDONALDS ET AL. (2015, February 23). Retrieved from New Mexico Case Search: https://caselookup.nmcourts.gov/caselookup/app
McDonald's coffee scalding lawsuit: Burning legal issue or a storm in a coffee cup? (2013, April 24). Legal Monitor Worldwide, pp. 1-2.
PEARSON v. CHUNG. (2015, February 23). Retrieved from Find Law: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/dc-court-of-appeals/1339256.html
The “McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case”: 20 Years in the Making. (2015, February 22). Retrieved from Word Press: https://makesafe.wordpress.com/2014/02/17/the-mcdonalds-hot-coffee-case-20-years-in-the-making/

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