The plaintiffs argued that Appleton conceded that McDonald's coffee would burn the mouth and throat if consumed when served. The jury awarded Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages and $2.7 million in punitive damages for McDonald’s callous conduct. This case was not only popular but grossly misinformed as most of the events of this case were factually incorrect when reported to … Li… When the case went to trial, the jurors saw graphic photos of Liebeck’s burns. [16] Instead, the company offered only $800. [27], Liebeck died on August 5, 2004, at age 91. It became the talk of everyone and created the discussion of abusive litigation. To this day, that New Mexico state court case is an essential component of any tort reform debate or discussion of litigation lore. 252, 254 n.1 (1995), U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico, "A Matter of Degree: How a Jury Decided that a Coffee Spill is Worth $2.9 Million", "Legal Urban Legends Hold Sway | Tall tales of outrageous jury awards have helped bolster business-led campaigns to overhaul the civil justice system", "Hot Coffee Filmmaker Says Contributions Produce Biased Judges", "Watch Hot Coffee, a Powerful New Film on HBO June 27", "Frivolous Lawsuits and How We Perceive Them", "The must-watch TV show of the night: 'Hot Coffee' on HBO", "The McDonald's Coffee Cup Case: Separating McFacts From McFiction", "Urban legends and Stella Liebeck and the McDonald's coffee case", "Angelina and Jack McMAHON, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. BUNN-O-MATIC CORPORATION, James River Paper Company, and Wincup Holdings, L.P., Defendants-Appellees", "Bogle & Ors v McDonald's Restaurants Ltd", "Local woman sues National Franchise over coffee", "McDonald's hit with 2 hot-coffee lawsuits", "A Hot Tip for Coffee Lovers: Most Retailers Prefer to Make It Scalding", "Huntingdon & St Ives latest news - Burger chain sued after boy's ordeal", The Stella Liebeck McDonald's Hot Coffee Case FAQ. McDonald's current policy is to serve coffee at 176–194 °F (80–90 °C),[35] relying on more sternly worded warnings on cups made of rigid foam to avoid future liability, though it continues to face lawsuits over hot coffee. 1993 WL 13651163, District Court of New Mexico, (Bernalillo County, N.M. Dist. Liebeck v. McDonald’s, also known as the McDonald’s Coffee Case, is a 1994 product liability lawsuit. It’s always encouraged to know the facts before buying into misrepresented and sensationalized stories. It only cost her 49 cents but it serving her that drink would cost the restaurant a lot more than that when it was all said and done. She removed the lid of coffee and placed it between her legs. They awarded Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages, which was then reduced by 20% to $160,000. She had to be hospitalized for eight days, and she required skin grafts and other treatment. McDonald’s offered Liebeck only $800—which did not even cover her medical expenses. At that time, and to this day, the thought of a fast food drive-thru customer spilling coffee on herself in her vehicle and later recovering a punitive verdict of $2.7 million was simply too much for many members of the public. Stella Liebeck’s case against McDonald’s was not about a careless, unprincipled woman: the case was about McDonald’s “behav [ing] callously in dealing with a little old lady who had been burned by its superheated coffee.” The facts surrounding the McDonald’s Coffee case often are grossly distorted by the media and special interest groups that are determined to deny the U.S. Constitution’s 7th amendment right to trial by jury, paint our courts in a negative light, and perpetuate the myth of frivolous lawsuits. Liebeck v McDonalds In 1994, Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurant, also referred to as the "McDonald coffee case," was a popular case in the U.S. because it was considered frivolous. While parked, Liebeck put the coffee cup between her knees and removed the lid to add cream and sugar, and she spilled it. A large portion of the film covered Liebeck's lawsuit. B.J. However, should McDonald's or any business be required to pay these types of claims? Case Summary – Stella Liebeck vs. McDonald’s 7/29/2015 McDonald's Hot Coffee Lawsuit In 1992, news media across the United States exploded over a now-infamous personal injury case in which a woman (Stella Liebeck) was awarded just short of $3 million in damages when she spilled a cup of scalding hot coffee in her lap. Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants, also known as the McDonald's coffee case and the hot coffee lawsuit, was a 1994 product liability lawsuit that became a flashpoint in the debate in the United States over tort reform. After the hospital stay, Liebeck needed care for three weeks, which was provided by her daughter. When the case went to trial, the jurors saw graphic photos of Liebeck’s burns. Liebeck placed the coffee cup between her knees and pulled the far side of the lid toward her to remove it. Ct. October 5, 1993), Daniel J. Shapiro, Punitive Damages, 43 La. “All the cup said was ‘contents hot,’” but that isn’t enough, Wagner noted—the warning should say how hot it is and that it could cause serious burns. Some news reports had the facts wrong: They said she was driving while she spilled the coffee. The company knew its coffee was causing serious burns, but it decided that, with billions of cups served annually, this number of burns was not significant. Stella Liebeck's case was portrayed as acquisitive and soon was manipulated to represent the flaws in the civil justice system. As per the New York Times, the jurors arrived at this figure from Morgan's suggestion to penalize McDonald's for two days' worth of coffee revenues, which were about $1.35 million per day. In reality, her grandson was driving, with Liebeck in the passenger seat. The jury learned that 700 other people—including children—had been burned before, yet the company did not change its policy of keeping coffee at between 180 and 190 degrees. [6] Ex-attorney Susan Saladoff sees the manner in which the case was portrayed in the media as purposeful misrepresentation due to political and corporate influence. Liebeck sought to settle with McDonald's for $20,000 to cover her actual and anticipated expenses. (“Hot Coffee” is available in the museum’s gift shop.) Liebeck was in the passenger's seat of a 1989 Ford Probe which did not have cup holders. On February 27, 1992, Stella Liebeck, 79 years old, pulled into the drive-through of a McDonalds restaurant in Albuquerque, New Mexico and ordered a cup of coffee. States’ products liability laws contain instructions about warnings: They must be in a conspicuous place and must warn the product’s user of possibly dangerous features, Wagner said. In 1992, Stella Liebeck of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was in the passenger seat of her grandson’s car when she was severely burned by a cup of coffee purchased at a local McDonalds’ drivethrough window. [12] She remained in the hospital for eight days while she underwent skin grafting. They bought the coffee in the drive-through window and then parked the car. Her past medical expenses were $10,500; her anticipated future medical expenses were approximately $2,500; and her daughter's[13] loss of income was approximately $5,000 for a total of approximately $18,000. McDonald’s had received more than 700 previous reports of injury from its coffee, including reports of third-degree burns, and had paid settlements in some cases. Scott. Stella was not actually driving; her grandson, Chris, was driving his 1989 Ford Probe. She was in the passenger seat of a car driven by her grandson. McDonald's offered $800. [2] However, it came to light that McDonald's had done research which indicated that customers intend to consume the coffee immediately while driving. [2][12], Liebeck was taken to the hospital, where it was determined that she had suffered third-degree burns on six percent of her skin and lesser burns over sixteen percent. At that temperature, the coffee would cause a third-degree burn in two to seven seconds. McDonald’s offered a mere $800 which Liebeck rejected. • Given this assumed fact, … Please check your entries and try again. She was wearing sweatpants, which held the scalding liquid against her skin. She ordered a cup of coffee at the drive-through and it was served to her in a Styrofoam cup. According to her daughter, "the burns and court proceedings (had taken) their toll" and in the years following the settlement Liebeck had "no quality of life", and that the settlement had paid for a live-in nurse. Liebeck's attorney argued that coffee should never be served hotter than 140 °F (60 °C), and that a number of other establishments served coffee at a substantially lower temperature than McDonald's. After a weeklong trial, the 12-person jury used comparative negligence to find that McDonald’s was 80% at-fault for Mrs. Liebeck’s injuries. A month after the trial, the judge reduced the jury’s punitive damages award to $640,000. [17] Applying the principles of comparative negligence, the jury found that McDonald's was 80% responsible for the incident and Liebeck was 20% at fault. The case centers around a woman by the name of Stella Liebeck, who spilled hot coffee on her lap which she purchased from McDonald's. [35][36] The Specialty Coffee Association of America supports improved packaging methods rather than lowering the temperature at which coffee is served. Something went wrong. News reports claimed that Liebeck drove with her cup of McDonald’s coffee between her legs, and spilled the contents of her cup on herself, winning millions of dollars from the company. Other restaurants served coffee at 160 degrees, which takes twenty seconds to cause third degree burns. [15] During the case, Liebeck's attorneys discovered that McDonald's required franchisees to serve coffee at 180–190 °F (82–88 °C). Detractors have argued that McDonald's refusal to offer more than an $800 settlement for the $10,500 in medical bills indicated that the suit was meritless and highlighted the fact that Liebeck spilled the coffee on herself rather than any wrongdoing on the company's part. [5] Jonathan Turley called the case "a meaningful and worthy lawsuit". As this is a regular and normal transaction, the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff to provide reasonable care in handling the coffee served They awarded Mrs. Liebeck $200,000 but found her 20% at fault for her injuries thus reducing her award to $160,000. Scott. McDonald's Knew the Coffee was Dangerously Hot. [36] Similarly, as of 2004, Starbucks sells coffee at 175–185 °F (79–85 °C), and the executive director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America reported that the standard serving temperature is 160–185 °F (71–85 °C). She earned $5000 a year as a sales clerk. [2], The trial took place from August 8–17, 1994, before New Mexico District Court Judge Robert H. Liebeck endured third-degree burns over 16 percent of her body, including her inner thighs and genitals—the skin was burned away to the layers of muscle and fatty tissue. Hot coffee grafts and other treatment but even after that, the so-called McDonald. 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