Naperville Business Attorney Discusses the Dangers of Corporate Arrogance

arrogance, Naperville business law attorneysWhen you are the owner of a business, you must always be aware of your brand and its reputation. Every business should have a good relationship with its customers, and owners should be always looking for ways to make that relationship stronger.

In my practice as a business law attorney, I have seen some egregious examples of large, well-established corporations attempting to save money, time, or hassle at the expense of their customers’ experience. While a hugely-profitable company may be able to get away with some behavior that does not benefit the customers, small businesses are more easily damaged by poor business decisions based on corporate arrogance.

More Than Just Scalding Coffee

When the now-infamous McDonalds hot coffee lawsuit first entered the public consciousness in 1994, many people were deeply confused about the facts. The average person saw headlines like “Hot cup of coffee costs $2.9 million” and assumed that the case was an example of how ridiculous the judicial system has become. The general consensus among the public was—and still is, to a certain extent—that a woman spilled coffee on herself and tried to get rich from it by filing a frivolous lawsuit.

The facts of this lawsuit, however, are very different than what people assume. First, brewed coffee at McDonald’s was held in carafes at temperatures of 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit, which was the chain’s standard procedure. Coffee at this temperature is not just hot, it is scalding enough to cause third degree burns in less than three seconds. The next important point is that the plaintiff—a woman in her late 70s—spilled coffee on her lap and experienced burns to her legs and pelvic region which were so severe, they reached beneath the skin layer into her muscle and fatty tissue. She was burned on 16 percent of her body and required an eight-day hospital stay. The woman was scarred and disfigured for the remainder of life, having died in 2004 at the age of 91.

Costly Arrogance?

Prior to filing suit, the woman offered to settle with McDonald’s for $20,000. Although this amount was less than a fraction of one percent of McDonald’s daily revenue and did not even cover the woman’s medical bills, McDonalds did not take the settlement. After the trials were all complete—which included a jury award for punitive damages of $2.7 million, or approximately two days worth of coffee sales for the McDonald’s chain—the woman walked away with an undisclosed amount thought to be less than $600,000.

The most disturbing part of this story is that the woman who was severely burned was far from the first person to have a problem with the temperature of McDonald’s coffee. From 1982 to 1992, McDonald’s had received more than 700 reports of burns from scalding coffee. Some of the injured were children and infants.

It seems that the cost of changing its coffee service practices was not worth preventing future injuries to customers. Despite the publicity that followed the lawsuit, McDonald’s has never agreed to change its corporate policy regarding the scalding coffee. It continues to be sold at extremely high temperature, though cups now carry warnings that hot coffee can cause burns.

Legal Advice Business Owners Can Count On

Small business owners should care deeply about their customers and do everything in their power to keep customers coming back. The McDonald’s lawsuit may be used as an example of what not to do when it comes to customer satisfaction. If you have questions or concerns about how to improve your business’s relationship with your customers, an experienced Naperville business law attorney can help you develop a thorough strategy. Contact The Gierach Law Firm to discuss your options and to get the direction you need. Call 630-756-1160 for a confidential consultation today.




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