Coffee Burns

In 1992, 79 year old Stella Liebeck bought a cup of coffee from a McDonald’s in New Mexico, spilled it on her lap, suffered multiple third-degree burns, and required skin grafts on her inner thighs and elsewhere. She subsequently sued McDonald’s.

Although the jury found Liebeck to be partly responsible for her injuries, based on evidence that McDonald’s coffee was unreasonably hot and had caused other injuries in the past, the jury decided to award Stella the equivalent of two days’ worth of coffee sales revenue for the entire restaurant chain. Some of the evidence presented at the trial includes:

1) An engineer from the University of Texas and the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Burn Care and Rehabilitation both testified that the risk of harm from the coffee was unacceptable.

2) An expert witness testified that the number of burns the coffee caused was insignificant compared to the number of cups of coffee sold every year.

3) A McDonald’s quality assurance manager testified that the coffee at the serving temperature was not fit for consumption because it would burn the throat.

4) After several other similar lawsuits, McDonald’s knew about the risk of serious burns from its coffee, but did not warn customers of the risk.

Fruit or Vegetable?

In 1893, the case Nix v.s. Hedden found its way to the American Supreme Court. In this case, John Nix, John W. Nix, and Frank W. Nix filed a suit against Edward Hedden, a collector at the Port of New York, who had charged them a vegetable tax on their imported tomatoes.

The Nixes argued that, because a tomato is, botanically speaking, a fruit, the vegetable tax shouldn’t have applied.

At the trial, dictionary definitions were ignored, because, according to the Court, “dictionaries are admitted, not as evidence, but only as aids to the memory and understanding of the court.”

Instead, the Court looked at such things as the “ordinary meaning” of the words “fruit” and “vegetable” and precedent. In 1889, the case Robertson v. Salomon had established that, although technically white beans were seeds, they were eaten like vegetables instead of planted, so they should be taxed as a vegetable.

Ultimately, the court decided that a tomato should be taxed as a vegetable. The opinion of the court read: “Botanically speaking, tomatoes are the fruit of a vine, just as are cucumbers, squashes, beans, and peas.

But in the common language of the people, whether sellers or consumers of provisions, all these are vegetables which are grown in kitchen gardens, and which, whether eaten cooked or raw, are, like potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, beets, cauliflower, cabbage, celery, and lettuce, usually served at dinner in, with, or after the soup, fish, or meats which constitute the principal part of the repast, and not, like fruits generally, as dessert.”


MerriamWebster tells us that evidence means: something that furnishes proof; something legally submitted to a tribunal to ascertain the truth of a matter; one who bears witness. First known use 14th century.

Synonyms: attestation, confirmation, corroboration, documentation, proof, substantiation, testament, testimonial, testimony, validation, voucher, witness.

Antonyms: disproof.

Reconstructing Memories

“The uncritical acceptance of eyewitness accounts may stem from a popular misconception of how memory works. Many people believe that human memory works like a video recorder: the mind records events and then, on cue, plays back an exact replica of them. 

On the contrary, psychologists have found that memories are reconstructed rather than played back each time we recall them. The act of remembering, says eminent memory researcher and psychologist Elizabeth F. Loftus of the University of California, Irvine, is “more akin to putting puzzle pieces together than retrieving a video recording.” 

Even questioning by a lawyer can alter the witness’s testimony because fragments of the memory may unknowingly be combined with information provided by the questioner, leading to inaccurate recall.”

From: “Why Science Tells Us Not to Rely on Eyewitness Accounts”, Hal Arkowitz and Scott Lilienfeld. Scientific American magazine, January 8, 2009.

Eyewitness testimony

Eyewitness testimony is the account a bystander gives in the courtroom, describing what that person observed that occurred during the specific incident under investigation. This recollection is used as evidence to show what happened from a witness’ point of view. 

Memory recall has been considered a credible source in the past, but has recently come under attack as forensics can now support psychologists in their claim that memories and individual perceptions are unreliable; being easily manipulated, altered, and biased. 

Many U.S. states are now attempting to make changes in how eyewitness testimony is presented in court. Eyewitness testimony is a specialized focus within cognitive psychology.

Salem Witch Trials

There is a long history of witness testimony being given an excessive amount of weight in American trials. One prominent example of this is the Salem Witch Trials.

In January of 1692, two young girls (9-year-old Elizabeth Parris and 11-year-old Abigail Williams) from Salem Village, Massachusetts, began having fits, including violent contortions and uncontrollable screaming. Although a modern study suggests that these fits were the result of the children consuming the fungus ergot, which can be found in rye, wheat, and other cereals, at the time, the local doctor diagnosed bewitchment. Shortly thereafter, other young girls in the community began to exhibit similar symptoms, and three local women were arrested after the girls accused them of witchcraft. 

Two of the women denied using witchcraft, however, the third, Tituba, a slave from the Caribbean confessed, probably hoping to save herself by acting as an informer. As part of her confession, Tituba claimed that there were other witches in the community that had acted alongside her.

This led to mass hysteria within the town of Salem, and soon many more people had been accused of and arrested for witchcraft. In the trials that followed, the primary evidence that was used for a conviction was witness testimony. In fact, some of the witness testimony that was presented wasn’t given by people who had seen the accused practicing witchcraft, but by people who had had dreams or visions of the accused practicing witchcraft. Altogether 19 people were hanged for witchcraft, 7 accused witches died in jail, and one man was pressed to death by stones for refusing to plea.

Eventually the trials were deemed unlawful, and in 1711 Massachusetts Colony passed legislation that restored the good names of those convicted of witchcraft, as well as provided financial restitution for their heirs. In 1953, Arthur Miller used the Salem Witch Trials as the basis for his play “The Crucible,” which he published during the Red Scare (a time of growing fear against communism during the 1950s) in an attempt to remind Americans not to rely primarily on witness testimony when judging innocence or guilt.

„Show good judgement“

All parents in all cultures strive to teach their children how to show or exercize good judgement. They want to prepare them for difficult situations in life, in which they will have to make difficult decisions, without the benefit of parental help. American parents will, time and again, advise their children to show good judgement.

Judges – team leads – base their judgement on three sources: on any existing laws, regulations, statutes, rules, regulations; on precedents, meaning how those laws, regulations, etc. have been previously applied; and on the specific circumstances of the conflict. Good – fair – judgement balances the influence of all three.

The higher in the American legal system one looks, the older the average age is of the judges. Americans equate judgement with wisdom. And wisdom is based on intelligence and experience. It is defined as: Accumulated philosophic or scientific learning; ability to discern inner qualities and relationships, insight; good sense; generally accepted belief; a wise attitude, belief, or course of action; the teachings of the ancient wise men. Middle English, from Old English wīsdōm, from wīs wise. First known use before 12th century

A judge conducts a trial in an open court. The judge is impartial. Judges hear witnesses and any other evidence presented by the conflict parties. Judges assess the credibility and arguments of the parties, then issue a ruling based on their interpretation of the law and his or her own personal judgment. In some cases, the judge’s powers may be shared with a jury.

Americans expect their managers to resolve a conflict the way a judge would rule on a case: impartially, considering all of the facts and witness testimony (if any), using their own common sense and experience, but not in any way sharing their responsibility to „make the call“ with other members of management (no jury).

To judge

Judge: To form an opinion through careful weighing of evidence and testing of premises; to sit in judgement of, to try; to determine or pronounce after inquiry and deliberation; to govern, rule; to form an estimate or evaluation of; to form an opinion; to decide as a judge. Middle English juggen, from Anglo-French juger, from Latin judicare.

Mediate: Occupying a middle position; acting through an intervening agency; exhibiting indirect causation, connection, or relation. From Late Latin mediatus intermediate.

Fact: A thing done; the quality of being actual; something that has actual existence; an actual occurrence; a piece of information presented as having objective reality. From Latin factum. 

Witness: Attestation of a fact or event; one that gives evidence; specifically: one who testifies in a cause or before a judicial tribunal; one asked to be present at a transaction so as to be able to testify to its having taken place; one who has personal knowledge of something; something serving as evidence or proof; public affirmation by word or example of usually religious faith or conviction. Middle English witnesse, from Old English witnes knowledge, testimony, witness, from wit.

Testimony: The tablets inscribed with the Mosaic law, the ark containing the tablets; a divine decree attested in the Scriptures; firsthand authentication of a fact; a solemn declaration usually made orally by a witness under oath in response to interrogation by a lawyer or authorized public official; an open acknowledgment. Middle English testimonie, Latin testimonium, from testis witness.


Conflict in a team affects its people. People have personal perspectives. Subjective, not objective. Both real and a factor. Opinion counts, for it is among the fundamental drivers of behavior.

Americans value as evidence both facts and personal opinion. See an American curriculum vitae (resumé). It always either cites or offers references. See the sales/marketing efforts of any American company. They always either cite or offer a customer list. See the American judicial system. It always allows for supporting witness testimony.

Ask employees

In 2013 there was a lot of controversy regarding allegations of abuse against several members of the Miami Dolphins professional football team. As part of the NFL (National Football League) investigation into these claims, a report was put together analyzing the behavior of the players. This report was primarily based on emails, text messages, and more than a hundred interviews conducted with the Dolphins personnel.

In 2002 the founders of Google attempted to set up an organizational system without managers. After just a few months, however, their system fell apart. Following this, the founders decided to use the failed experiment to determine which characteristics are the most important for strong leaders.

To find these characteristics, the founders considered not only the factual details from the failed system, but they also relied heavily on such things as employee surveys and double-blind interviews.