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Coffee, Tea, or Two Million Dollars?

By Mark Bradbury

Most of you reading this will remember the hot coffee case that changed the way US courts looked at civil cases. Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants, also known as the McDonald's coffee case and the hot coffee lawsuit, was a highly publicized 1994 product liability lawsuit in the United States against the McDonald's restaurant chain.

Quick summary: A woman had purchased a cup of coffee at a McDonald’s Drive Through and while attempting to remove the cover she spilled the entire cup of coffee in her lap, causing her to receive 3rd degree burns on her pelvic area and buttocks. She had initially asked McDonald’s to cover her damages, medical expenses and aftercare, which totaled around $20,000 at the time. They refused, she hired an attorney and by the time the dust had cleared, McDonald’s ended up paying somewhere around $2 million dollars!

ABC News called the case "the poster child of excessive lawsuits." It became the rallying cry for thousands of what many have referred to as frivolous lawsuits across the US. Corporate entities lost millions of dollars from these suits, while attorneys everywhere chased after these types of cases. It was easy pickins,’ most thought.

As I said, almost every one of us has heard about this case or would have remembered it when you read my summary. It was 1994, 30 years ago. You were probably one of thousands who said “Damn, I should have thought of that!” It all seemed so simple; a “get rich quick” story to fill up your bank account.

But, my friends, that happened in the United States. The liability cases that so many thousands of Americans had filed and won were done inside the US; not anywhere else, and certainly not here in Ecuador!

If you had taken this case to an Ecuadorian court, several things might have happened, and none of them involve you getting any money. The first, and worst, reaction might have come from the judge, who could have you fined, arrested and thrown into an Ecuadorian prison for wasting everybody’s time.

The second reaction might have been that your attorney might have been thrown in jail and you could have been laughed out of the courthouse.

And finally, you and your attorney might have both been laughed out of the courthouse. No money; only ridicule for thinking you could get a reward for being dumb!

So, here we are, either in Ecuador, or thinking about coming, and we should know some basics. Here’s a few:

Slip in the shower….not the landlord’s fault; install some safety bars.

Finger crushed in the refrigerator door…..not Mabe’s fault; move a little faster!

Spill your coffee…, my, how silly! Change your pants!

Choke on a fishbone while eating Camotillo…..sorry, you should eat a little slower; fish have bones, you know!

Drive your electric scooter into a wall…..hmmm, did the wall jump out in front of you?

I could go on for quite a while citing instances of us doing potentially less than smart things to cause ourselves or our property damage, but you’ve probably gotten the point by now.

We are not living in the United States anymore, and the laws of Ecuador are very different than the laws in our former home country. You should know the difference, or at least try to learn. Just like you have heard me say that the laws of Ecuador are very different when it comes to personal expression, or personal freedoms, then you need to know that the laws relative to personal responsibility are quite different too!

Most of us came to this country to start a new life. That means completely leaving our past lives in the United States, and that means realizing that things are done differently here. You’ll be your happiest when you accept these differences! This is Ecuador - TIE!

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