THE TRUTH BEHIND HOT COFFEE
Those looking to destroy the civil justice have continually mocked Stella Liebeck and the McDonald’s coffee case. Unfortunately, the actual facts of this case make it no laughing matter.
Ms. Liebeck’s injuries include third degree burns—the most severe—to her groin, inner thighs, and buttocks. She was hospitalized for eight days, during which time she underwent skin grafting and debridement treatments (the surgical removal of tissue).
Ms. Liebeck sought to settle her claim with McDonald’s for $20,000, but they refused. McDonald’s eventually produced documents showing more than 700 claims by people burned by its coffee between 1982 and 1993, some involving third degree burns similar to Ms. Liebeck. This history documented McDonald’s knowledge about the extent and nature of this hazard. McDonald’s own quality assurance manager testified that a burn hazard exists with any food served above 140 degrees; their coffee was kept warm at 185 degrees.
A jury awarded Ms. Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages, but reduced it to $160,000 because they found her 20 percent at fault for the spill. The jury also awarded her $2.7 million in punitive damages, equal to two days of McDonald’s coffee sales. This was eventually reduced to $480,000, even though the judge called McDonald’s conduct reckless, callous, and willful. Jurors expressed similar sentiments in interviews after the trial. Ms. Liebeck and McDonald’s eventually entered a post-verdict settlement. (From the American Association for Justice)
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