The Truth About The McDonald’s Hot Coffee Burn Case – Nearly everyone, at one time or another, has heard of this case. It purportedly proves how trial lawyers are greedy charlatans and juries mindless fops. The corporate media so propagandized the case that Americans were led to believe that a woman put a cup of coffee between her legs, got burned by it, and collected millions. This, corporate America tells us, is why we cannot trust trial lawyers or juries.
Rush Limbaugh mislead people, “Folks, isn’t hot coffee supposed to be hot?” or “The lady doesn’t know better than to put it between her legs?” Other countries hear this in dismay of our judicial system and conclude, “Under our system no woman could get millions for spilled coffee between her legs.” The lawyer who represented the injured woman was Stella Liebeck of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Here is the real story without corporate lies and manipulation.
McDonald’s coffee was not just hot, it was scolding hot — capable of almost instantaneously destroying skin, flesh, and muscle. Stella was in the passenger seat of her grandson’s car. She was seventy-nine at the time. She ordered coffee that was served in a styrofoam cup, one designed to maintain the heat of the coffee. She was served at the drive-through window of a local McDonald’s.
Her grandson pulled his car forward and stopped momentarily so that Stella could add cream and sugar to her coffee. She placed the cup between her legs, in her attempt to remove the plastic lid from the cup. As she removed the lid, the entire contents of the cup spilled into her lap. The sweatpants Stella was wearing absorbed the coffee and held the scalding heat firmly next to her skin.
A vascular surgeon determined that Stella suffered full-thickness burns— third degree burns — over 6 percent of her body, including her inner thighs, the region surrounding the urogenital and anal openings, her buttocks, her groin and the lips of her vagina. She was hospitalized for eight days, during time she underwent skin grafting. Stella, who underwent a series of horribly painful debridement treatments, sought to settle her claim for $20,000. But McDonald’s said, “take it court, Honey. Yes, isn’t coffee supposed to be hot?”
There were more than seven hundred claims made by people burned by its coffee between 1982 and 1992. Some injuries were as bad as Stella’s burns. McDonald’s kept its coffee at 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Coffee served at home is generally at 135 to 140 degrees. McDonald’s quality assurance manager testified that the company requires to keep its coffee at 185 degrees, plus or minus five degrees. He testified that a severe burn occurs with any food substance at 140 degrees or above, and that McDonald’s coffee at 180 to 190 degrees would burn the mouth and throat. He testified that McDonald’s had not intention of reducing the “holding temperature” of its coffee.
Stella’s expert, a scholar in thermodynamics as applied to human skin, testified that liquids at 180 degrees will cause a full-thickness burn (third-degree) to human skin in two to seven seconds — something consumers don’t know but McDonald’s knew seven hundred times over. The jury awarded Stella $200,000. This amount was reduced to $160,000 by the judge because the jury found Stella 20 percent at fault in the spill. The jury also awarded Stella $2.7 million in punitive damages, which equaled about two days of McDonald’s coffee sales. The trial judge reduced the punitive award down to $480,000.
We are always working to ensure the truth is delivered in every case we encounter, because it maximizes value. Call 702.830.7070 for a free consult to see how we can protect your individual civil injury rights. The above is from Gerry Spence’s Bloodthirsty Bitches and Pious Pimps of Power page 176.