I was reminded of the controversial 1994 lawsuit Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants this week when I read about a woman suing Starbucks after “unreasonably” hot tea spilled in her lap causing burns. The McDonald’s trial infamously awarded Ms. Liebeck, a 79 year old woman, $2.86 million after she spilled hot coffee in her lap. “That’s ridiculous,” some might say. “I spilled coffee on myself this morning. I should sue and get myself $3 million dollars!”

The McDonald’s hot coffee case instantly became the poster child for frivolous lawsuits and greedy, unethical personal injury lawyers.McDonald's Coffee

But facts you’ve never heard before will change the way you feel about this case . . .

• Ms. Liebeck was a passenger in a parked car. She held the cup between her knees (there was no cup holder on her side of the car) to remove the lid and add sugar and cream. The entire cup of coffee fell into her lap.
• The hot coffee caused 3rd degree burns on 6% of her body and lesser-degree burns on 16% of her body. She had skin grafts on her thighs, buttocks and groin and was in the hospital for a week.
• McDonald’s corporate policy required coffee be heated to dangerously hot levels (180 – 190 degrees) to maximize taste, although they admitted in trial this temperature was “not fit for consumption”. They knew it could cause 3rd degree burns within 3-7 seconds.
• Between 1982-1992 McDonald’s had more than 700 complaints from customers burned by hot coffee, many with severe burns in the pelvic region.
• Before trial, Ms. Liebeck attempted to settle with McDonald’s for $20,000 to cover her medical expenses and lost income. McDonald’s never offered more than $800.
• The jury found Ms. Liebeck 20% at fault for the burns; therefore her $200,000 award for injuries was reduced to $160,000. The jury also awarded her $2.7 million in punitive damages due McDonald’s continued refusal to change corporate policy on coffee temperature. Punitive damages were reduced to $480,000 by the judge.
• Punitive damages of $2.7 million were equivalent to 2 days worth of coffee sales for McDonald’s.
• Ultimately McDonald’s settled with Ms. Liebeck for an undisclosed amount

When a company has unsafe policies that have resulted in injuries to you, call us at The Law Offices of Reese Harvey so we can help you fight for the justice you deserve 561.691.4511.