The McDonald’s Coffee Burn Lawsuit


This is a Test. Before you read further, I want you to set aside your computer and spend a few minutes thinking about your understanding of the famous McDonald’s Coffee Burn Case. Try to recall the facts and the results of this case. After you have spent a few minutes recalling this case, read the following information about the ACTUAL case. And let us know if these facts surprise you, are what you remember or otherwise.

The McDonald’s Case.

Do we need to say more? You may agree, you may disagree, but it is a fairly safe bet that you have an opinion about the McDonald’s Coffee Burn case. But how well do you remember the Liebeck vs. McDonald’s case from 1994?

Stella Liebeck, age 79,purchased coffee at a McDonald’s drive-through window in New Mexico. And she was severely burned as the styrofoam cup of coffee fell into her lap. She was a passenger in her grandson’s vehicle, and he had stopped the car so that his grandmother, who put the cup between her knees, could open the lid to add her milk and sugar. As part of this process, she was burned when the coffee came in contact with her skin.

The coffee was so incredibly hot that third degree burns scalded Ms. Liebeck’s skin and destroyed nerve endings. She was hospitalized for almost eight days and required skin grafting. Prior to hiring a lawyer, she asked McDonald’s to merely cover her medical expenses of approximately $20,000, but they offered her $800. Ms. Liebeck hired a lawyer and filed a products-liability lawsuit, essentially alleging that McDonald’s was serving a defective product to customers.

Evidence presented to the Court showed that the coffee served Ms. Liebeck was between 180 and 190 degrees. Normal standards for hot coffee are between 135 and 140 degrees. In addition, it was discovered that McDonald’s had received more than 700 complaints of coffee burns prior to the one from Ms. Liebeck, and yet they refused to correct the problem.

The New Mexico jury took action where McDonald’s refused. They found Ms. Liebeck’s compensatory damages to be $200,000 (meaning damages compensating Ms. Liebeck for her losses). In addition, they awarded punitive damages o f$2.7 million finding that McDonald’s engaged in willful, reckless business practices. This figure was reached because it was the equivalent of approximately two days of McDonald’s coffee sales. What was not widely reported, however, was that the punitive award was reduced on appeal, that the jury also found Ms. Liebeck at partial fault, and reduced her compensatory damages to $160,000,and that later an undisclosed settlement was reached for what most people believe to be under $500,000.

Whether you agree or disagree with the outcome of this case, be sure that you know the facts before reaching your conclusion.