It is not uncommon to hear people make fun of the hot coffee case. You know the one. The case where a woman sued McDonald's after she spilled hot coffee on herself. I mean, really?! Let's get serious! You buy HOT coffee and then you spill it on yourself and then you sue McDonald's?!! And then you get millions of dollars??!! Hey! What a country?!
This case has become the poster child of frivolous lawsuits and lots of people use this case to make fun of the legal system.
And as is so often the case, let's not let the facts interfere with an otherwise great story.
Just what are the facts? Well, if you want to get technical.... Stella Liebeck was a 79-year old woman who bought a 49 cent cup of coffee at McDonalds drive through window. Her grandson was driving the car and pulled it over in a parking space so Stella could put some cream and sugar in the coffee.
When she tried to pull the plastic lid off, the coffee spilled on her. She was wearing cotton sweat pants and the coffee scalded her. She spent 8 days in the hospital and underwent skin graphs for severe burns to her legs, torso and buttocks.
Ms. Liebeck asked McDonalds to pay her $20,000 to cover her medical bills. McDonalds refused. She talked to a lawyer and a lawsuit was filed after McDonalds offered to settle the case for ..... $800.
The evidence showed that the McDonalds coffee was being served at 180 degrees F -- the industry standard is about 140 degrees F. Furthermore, during the 10 years prior to the lawsuit, McDonalds had received over 700 complaints from people who had been burned by their coffee.
After a trial, the jury awarded Stella Liebeck $200,000 in actual damages and $2.7 million in punitive damages. The judge reduced the punitive award about $480,000 and eventually the case was settled for an undisclosed amount.
The facts of the case are that Ms. Liebeck was severely burned by a cup of coffee that McDonalds knew was excessively hot. The facts are that a 12-person jury listened to a very long trial and decided Ms. Liebeck deserved a large sum of money from a huge corporation. The facts are that the huge corporation refused to negotiate in good faith with Ms. Liebeck and her lawyer following a very bad accident that could have been avoided.
But it's a lot easier to disregard the facts when talking about this case and many other product liability cases. Remember the Ford Pinto?
Here's a cartoon by one of my favorite cartoonists. You will need to click on the image to read it.
Thanks for stopping by. And, just for the record, I like McDonalds but did not like they way that company treated Mrs. Liebeck and have never liked the way this case has been regarded over the years.