Twenty years later, and the general public still considers the McDonald’s hot coffee case as a frivolous lawsuit. Ask anyone (who isn’t a lawyer), and they’ll tell you that the case involved a woman who dumped hot coffee in her lap, sued, and received millions of dollars. The common misconception about this lawsuit is that it was frivolous because the only issue in the case was that the plaintiff spilled coffee in her own lap. However, the more you know the facts of this case then the more you realize the true issue in the case. Namely, rather than brewing fresh coffee on a more frequent basis (which meant less profitability), McDonald’s kept it’s coffee at a dangerously high temperature that wasn’t fit for human consumption and McDonald’s knew that it was severely hurting people who either drank it or accidentally spilled it on themselves or others. Unfortunately for Ms. Liebeck, McDonald’s knowingly caused her more harm than you might imagine. Further, McDonald’s knew it was hurting people but it did nothing at the time to make one simple change – reduce the heat of it’s coffee.
In this broadcast of Legally Speaking, host Stephan Futeral and several guests, both lawyers and non-lawyers, debunk the myths behind this case and explore the real facts that supported the jury’s decision:
- Stella Liebeck, 79 years old, was a passenger in her grandson’s car when she spilled the cup between her knees while removing the lid.
- She received 3rd degree burns (enough to burn past the flesh and down into the fatty tissue) over 16 percent of her body, she was in the hospital for eight days, she had whirlpool treatment for debridement of her wounds, skin grafting, scarring, and disability for more than two years. Here is a link to photos showing the burns to her body. CAUTION: These photographs do display burn injuries and wounds that may be unsuitable for younger viewers: Click Here For Injury Photos
- Ms. Leibeck offered to settle with McDonald’s for $20,000, but McDonald’s refused.
- The jury awarded Ms. Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages which was reduced to $160,000 because the jury found that she was 20 percent at fault for spilling the coffee.
- The jury awarded $2.7 million (the amount of revenue McDonald made for two days of coffee sales) in punitive damages for McDonald’s callous conduct. The trial judge reduced the punitive damages to $480,000. The parties later settled.
- At that time, McDonald’s sold its coffee at 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit which, if spilled, causes third-degree burns in 2 to 7 seconds.
- Over a period of ten years, McDonald’s was aware that it knew many consumers were being seriously burned by it’s coffee.
- From 1982 t0 1992, more than 700 people had been injured from McDonald’s coffee including severe burns to the genital area, perineum, inner thighs, and buttocks.
- McDonald’s admitted that its coffee was “not fit for consumption” because it causes severe scalds if spilled or drunk.
Watch this episode of Legally Speaking; it may change your view of the McDonald’s coffee case and how our system of justice actually worked in this case.
Where to Watch Future Episodes
1) You can watch live on Google Plus where you can engage during the live broadcast by commenting and asking questions of the hosts and guest speakers. Click here to open and join the Community Page for Legally Speaking where you’ll get notice of upcoming episodes and where you can comment, ask questions of featured guests, and add your ideas for future shows. Or, you can follow (circle) Stephan Futeral on Google Plus and receive upcoming Legally Speaking event notices. Thanks to everyone for tuning in to Legally Speaking!
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Personal Injury Lawyers in Charleston
If you’ve been injured in an accident or by a defective product, call the personal injury lawyers of Futeral & Nelson today for a free consultation.