The Real Details of the Hot Coffee Lawsuit

When the subject of frivolous lawsuits comes up, someone always mentions the McDonalds hot coffee lawsuit as an example, because the short version sounds so outrageous: a woman sued McDonalds because her coffee was served hot. But the short version doesn't tell us much.

The world’s most infamous cup of coffee spilled on February 27, 1992 in Albuquerque, NM. Stella Liebeck, a 79-year-old grandmother, was a passenger in her grandson’s car when they drove through at a McDonald’s, and after she received her styrofoam cup of joe her grandson pulled the car forward and parked so Liebeck could mix in her cream and sugar. Liebeck braced the cup between her knees, but when she tried to pull off the cup’s lid, the entire cup of coffee spilled into her lap. Although subsequent developments in the courtroom turned Liebeck and her case into objects of derision, it’s worth noting that she actually suffered legitimate injuries from the accident. Liebeck’s sweatpants absorbed the hot coffee and held it next to her skin, which helped lead to third degree burns on six percent of her body. Liebeck ended up spending eight days in the hospital and undergoing skin grafts to counter the effects of the burns.

But that's only the beginning of the story. Liebeck asked McDonalds for $20,000 to cover her medical expenses and lost wages. McDonalds offered $800. That's when the story starts to get complicated. Read the entire account of how a jury decided to award Liebeck $2.9 million when the case went to court (and that's not even the end) at mental_floss. Link

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The real issue here is not whether the coffee was unreasonably hot. The issue is that McDonald's had been circulating internal memos for years in which they stated that it was too hot, and posed a danger to their customers. Regardless of whether it was actually too hot, the point is that McDonald's believed it was dangerously hot and did nothing to change that.

And frankly, I don't care about what a thermometer said: If a cup of coffee causes third-degree burns, then it is, by definition, unreasonably hot.
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If McDonalds didn't think they were responsible in any way or form, then why did they offer to pay her anything at all? Even their ridiculous, ass bag, shitty offer of $800? I'm glad they had to pay up.
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Gaulder: You should never put ice or ice water on a third degree burn. That would've made things worse, which is why you call the paramedics! If they did that, she probably would have won nothing. Putting cold ice or ice water on a third degree burn could make her go into shock and cause more damage, making it hard to tell which caused what damage. Even room temperature water would sting.
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So if I hold coffee in my lap, knowing that it's very hot, and then try to remove the cap which is the only thing keeping the coffee from splashing's McDonald's fault? If the lid malfunctioned or the cup split, I could see it.
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Frau, water does not boil below 203 here at sea level, either. It has to be even hotter: 212 degrees.

No one serves boiling coffee. You don't even have to boil water to make coffee anymore. The altitude may make getting water to boil easier up there, but it doesn't make any difference in what temperature scalds the skin.
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