Tom responds to readers on matters regarding hot coffee, McDonald's and the supermarket express lane

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the encroachment of Stupidity (with a capital "S") into our society.

My main target was the fact that a local grocery-store chain has changed the signs at the express lane from "15 Items" to "Around 15 Items." I was stunned that the chain appeared to be siding with the handful of jackasses and morons who willingly and selfishly screw things up for the vast majority who do things the right way, take other people's feelings into consideration, and can count up to 15.

I got a huge response on the column, not all of it favorable. Many took me to task for an offhanded comment I made while setting up my main gripe (more on that later), but, astonishingly, three people actually wrote in favor of the new signs.

Janet writes that the new signs are an improvement. "It's asinine to have to count your items to make sure you qualify for the quick lane, or have somebody else count them for you and inform you that you're over the limit. It lets people decide for themselves if they should go in the fast lane or not."

Well, Janet, I hope that when you die (a long time from now), you end up in purgatory, a place full of people with bad body odor, flies and air conditioning that doesn't work. (Wow, I just realized that purgatory sounds a lot like Houston.) Anyway, you're in purgatory because of a couple of clerical errors. (Somehow, a couple of Tea Party members got into heaven and forced St. Peter to downsize his staff.) You want to get things cleared up as quickly as possible, so you head over to the line that reads "5 Transgressions or Fewer." But when you get in line, you see that standing in line ahead of you are a couple of Mideast dictators, a bunch of tax accountants and Charlie Sheen.

Most of the negative e-mails pertained to my having referred to the famous McDonald's coffee-spill lady as "stupid." Many people suggested that I didn't know the details of the case and recommended that I watch the documentary Hot Coffee. (You can read a couple of them in this week's Mailbag online.)

I had already seen that documentary, but I went back and watched it again in case I had missed anything. Like all good documentarians, Hot Coffee director Susan Saladoff took a clear stance on an issue and then presented items to help make her case. She certainly made a good case against so-called tort reform, although I must admit that I, like most reasonable people, still do a full-body wince when I hear about some guy who was drunk and high, crashed into a telephone pole, and then successfully sued some governmental entity because the telephone pole didn't get out of his way.

So that y'all know that I know the facts of the case, I'll present them briefly:

• Stella Liebeck, 79, was the passenger in a car, and she got a cup of coffee from a McDonald's drive-through in Albuquerque, N.M. (It was not in Tucson, as one of you suggested.)

• She put the cup of scalding liquid between her legs and attempted to pry off the lid so that she could add cream and sugar. (The car she was in didn't have a cup-holder.)

• The coffee spilled, causing third-degree burns to her thighs and private area.

• She asked McDonald's to cover her medical costs. When the company refused, she sued, and the jury awarded her a ton of money. A judge later reduced the award by more than 80 percent, and she settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. (I assume the jurors looked at the graphic pictures of her injuries and thought, "Wow, that coulda been me.")

A lot of you made a point of mentioning that the coffee had been brewed and served at 185 degrees. Well, I looked it up, and according to the National Coffee Association (which has been around for more than 100 years), coffee should be brewed at between 195 and 205 degrees, and served at 175 degrees.

I'm in no way a fan of corporate-think, but in some cases, I understand it. McDonald's could have paid for her medical bills, but it probably would have swung the door open for a lot of other time- and money-consuming complaints. I'm sorry that she got hurt, but in my mind, an elderly woman voluntarily placed a cup of hot liquid between her legs and then sued somebody after getting burned by liquid she had voluntarily placed between her legs. I don't get it.

As I was doing research for this, I came across an item about a 23-year-old schoolteacher from Illinois who went to a Halloween party at a Chicago hotel in 2010. After drinking herself drunk, she attempted to slide down a fourth-story banister and fell to her death. Now her parents are suing the hotel and the party's promoters. It's sad that she died, but how is that anybody's fault but hers?

And finally, for Allan H., who wrote and claimed that McDonald's "has probably killed more people than Hitler," you're banned from the Guy Club forever.

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