Remember, most stories have two sides

Published 6:00 am Sunday, August 20, 2017

friend sent me something from Facebook, which was an interesting read. She said she wished it could be in the newspaper.

It was an author unknown writing about the death of common sense.

I think we can all agree common sense seems to have flown the coop, or maybe we simply see more things that are ridiculous and outlandish because of our exposure to social media and the crazy things people write on it.

What my friend shared on Facebook reads in part:

“Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense, who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was, since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape.”

The writing goes on and describes a number of silly things that do, indeed, defy common sense, but one part of the writing gave me pause.

“Common Sense finally gave up the will to live after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap and was promptly awarded a huge settlement.”

We all have heard about that case. A jury awarded an elderly woman more than $2 million after she was burned when she spilled a cup of McDonald’s coffee. Sounds frivolous, huh?

Like most things we read on Facebook and other social media sites, often the true story is something different altogether.

In 1992 in Albuquerque, N.M., 79-year-old Stella Liebeck was a passenger in her grandson’s car. He stopped the car, still in the restaurant’s parking lot, to allow his grandmother to put cream and sugar in her coffee.

She held the cup of coffee between her knees and pulled the lid off, promptly spilling the entire contents into her lap.

It was determined the coffee at the time it was spilled was between 180 and 190 degrees Fahrenheit, which was McDonald’s corporate standards at the time. That temperature may still be McDonald’s standard.

Liebeck suffered third-degree burns in a very delicate area of her body. She was hospitalized for eight days and required skin grafts and other procedures for about two years.

According to published reports, Liebeck offered to settle with McDonald’s for $20,000, which would have covered the medical expenses she had to pay, but McDonald’s refused, offering her only $800.

When it went to trial, an expert testified that coffee at that temperature could, indeed, cause third-degree burns, but was also too hot to drink. Information at the trial showed that from 1982 to 1992, McDonald’s knew that more than 700 people had been burned by its coffee, many of them suffering severe injuries to genitals, inner thighs and buttocks, like Ms. Liebeck.

According to the Texas Association of Trial Lawyers, the Shriner’s Burn Center in Cincinnati had warned fast food franchises that beverages served above 130 degrees put customers at risk for burns.

The jury awarded her $200,000 in compensatory damages, which they reduced to $160,000 because they found her 20 percent at fault, and $2.7 million in punitive damages for McDonald’s careless conduct in her case. That amount was at the time the corporation’s revenues from two days’ sales of coffee. However, the trial judge reduced the punitive damages down to $480,000, and Liebeck and McDonald’s reached a post-verdict settlement.

It wasn’t simply that someone sought an easy payday, though not knowing the facts could make us think that. Such is often the case today, when increasingly people get their news from Facebook or 140 character tweets.

Typically, there are two sides to every story.

•••

Do you know someone here — or have you — lost a lot of weight the old-fashioned way and kept it off? Do you know someone who has made changes in their diet or exercise or lifestyle that have made them healthier?

It’s so difficult to make lasting lifestyle changes. I’m sure our readers would love to read the stories of those here in Vicksburg and Warren County who have done so successfully.

If you know someone or if you have made changes in your lifestyle that have made you healthier and you wouldn’t mind sharing your story, please email me or call me. My direct line at work is 601-636-6488. Thanks.

Jan Griffey is general manager of The Vicksburg Post. You may reach her at jan.griffey@vicksburgpost.com. Readers are invited to submit their opinions for publication.