Written by Brian S. Kabateck
August 10, 2018
Of all the personal injury cases over the years which have garnered media attention, the most misunderstood must be the “McDonald’s Hot Coffee” lawsuit. Few people know all the details from start to finish, only that a woman won a multi-million-dollar verdict after she claimed she was burned by a hot cup of McDonald’s coffee. In truth, an elderly woman suffered second and third-degree burns which required skin grafts because McDonald’s heated their coffee far above the industry norm. When the case went into the discovery phase, attorneys for the woman found out that there were hundreds of complaints against the fast food giant for the temperature at which they kept their coffee.
Consumers enjoy few protections, especially with the current administration stripping away the protections they’ve enjoyed for decades. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a government agency which regulates the offering and provision of consumer financial products or services, is slowly being gutted by the President and Republicans in control of Congress. A study was just released that shows an overwhelming majority of Americans (80%) are concerned about the Trump administration’s efforts to curb oversight of banks and payday lenders. Many Americans remember how just ten years ago the free-reign of financial institutions crippled the world’s economy for years.
Another report, this time a survey, by the Consumer Federation of America stated that for the sixth consecutive year, consumers complained about automotive issues more than any other problem they faced. The question is though, do complaints matter and do they change things?
For the attorneys representing the woman suing McDonald’s, the complaints lodged against the company were absolutely vital to their case. It showed a pattern of behavior and negligence which ultimately led to their client’s significant injuries. In the past, consumer complaints have led to such government protections as the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the CFPB and others. The flip side though is that it often takes overwhelming complaints by consumers before any significant action is taken by the federal government. The regulation of lead levels in drinking water, proper testing of foods and medicines by the Food and Drug Administration and other government protections only came after years of complaints.
Winning greater protections against violations by Wall Street, Silicon Valley, Big Oil, Big Pharma and others will only come as consumers raise their voices. Those of us who fight hard to protect consumer rights have seen consumer rights furthered only when they unite their voices through vocal protests, class action lawsuits, consumer protection non-profits and related action. While the current administration continues to hammer the rights of the average American, consumer protection agencies and consumer advocates have increased efforts to fight for protections for all.