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Product Safety and Liability: McDonalds v. Liebeck

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I am having trouble with this case study that I'm learning about in one of my management classes. Please read the attached case and answer the following thoroughly in your own words:

1. Explain if there was a "reasonable risk" or "unreasonable risk" involved in this case.
2. Was the plaintiff acting prudently? Explain.
3. Explain the concept of "duty to warn" within the context of this case.
4. What do you recommend in order to eliminate or minimize the risk of such hazard?


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1. There is indeed an unreasonable risk involved in this case, due to the fact that the coffee is kept at an unreasonably high temperature of 185°- 190°, which ensures that this coffee will burn the mouths and throats of the individuals that drink it, as well as be guaranteed to burn the other parts of an individual's body if this coffee happens to spill. What makes this risk so unreasonable, is that McDonald's is fully aware of the dangers of serving coffee at this temperature, as well as the fact that the normal temperature for homebrewed coffee is much less, and yet still provide a satisfactory taste, which exacerbates the ...

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Discussion Questions

Discussion Question One

A few years ago a New Mexico jury awarded Stella Liebeck $2.7 million in punitive damages after she received third degree burns from a cup of McDonald's coffee she spilled in her lap. Do you think it is appropriate to punish corporate wrongdoing by awarding punitive damages in a private lawsuit? Was the award appropriate in this case?

Discussion Question Two

In light of the legal policy discussed above, should the manufacturer be held strictly liable despite all the warnings if the hostess were injured? Having used the product despite the warnings, should the hostess be considered negligent? Should manufacturers be allowed to make and sell products they know are "POISONOUS" and "FLAMMABLE," in other words very, very dangerous?

Discussion Question Three

The last time I was in Nogales I was offered a $10 "Rolex" watch. Was the seller violating the Lanham Trademark Act? Is there any possibility a consumer paying $10 for a "Rolex" could be confused about the authenticity of his purchase? If not, why should the makers of genuine Rolex watches be upset?

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