You remember the media attention the McDonald’s Hot Coffee Lawsuit got. That was only part of the story.
In February of 1992, 79-year-old Stella Liebeck of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was riding in the passenger seat of her grandson’s car. After they got their order from the McDonald’s drivethrough, Liebeck’s grandson pulled the car forward and stopped so she could add cream and sugar to her coffee.
Liebeck put the cup between her knees, and pulled the lid off. Unfortunately, as that happened, she spilled the entire coffee in her lap.
Wait a Minute – She Spilled the Coffee on Her Own Lap! Isn’t She Responsible?
The jury in this case actually agreed with that. Liebeck was found partially at fault for her injuries. Her compensation actually got reduced by the appropriate amount.
However, here’s some facts about that personal injury claim you probably didn’t hear from the media:
- At the time, McDonald’s required franchisees to keep coffee at 180-190 degrees. To put that in perspective, that temperature causes third-degree burns in 3-7 seconds!
- McDonald’s had already received more than 700 previous reports of injuries from its coffee. Those reports included third-degree burns in some cases. McDonald’s paid a settlement in some of those cases.
- McDonalds admitted it knew about the risks of its intensely hot coffee for more than a decade. Despite this knowledge, McDonald’s refused to change its coffee policy.
- One juror told the Wall Street Journal she thought, “There was a person behind every number (speaking of the 700 injuries), and I don’t think the corporation was attaching enough importance to that.”
Stella Liebeck Suffered Severe Injuries
When you burn your mouth with hot coffee today, it hurts. But after a couple seconds, the pain’s gone.
Annoying, but not a huge deal, right?
Well, Stella Liebeck’s injuries were quite serious. She suffered third-degree burns on 6% of her body. Her inner thighs, buttocks, genitals, groin, and perineum (the area between your anus and genitals) were severely burned.
What kind of medical treatment do you think Stella needed to recover?
It wasn’t a quick, painless thing. Nope, not at all.
She spent 8 days in the hospital. Some of her recovery required skin grafting. And she needed two years of additional medical treatment to continue her recovery!
She deserved money for pain and suffering.
Stella Liebeck Didn’t Walk Away with Millions in Her Pocket!
Originally, she asked for just $20,000 to cover her medical expenses and lost income.
That sounds fair, doesn’t it?
McDonald’s didn’t think so. They made several offers, with the biggest being a laughable $800!
The jury, upset by McDonald’s uncooperative behavior throughout the case, awarded Liebeck 2 days’ worth of revenue from coffee sales – $2.7 million. They also said Liebeck deserved $160,000 in medical expenses and compensatory damages.
The judge presiding over the trial reduced that amount to $640,000. Both parties eventually settled for a confidential amount before an appeal was made.
An amount around that number seems within reason, doesn’t it?
Think of all the emotional distress Liebeck had to suffer as she went through the legal process!
But not everyone found her settlement reasonable.
ABC News called the case “the poster child of excessive lawsuits.”
Stand Up for Your Rights!
Every issue has two sides. Some want you to feel guilty for seeking compensation for your injuries.
When someone else’s negligence causes you harm, you should get fair compensation. And you need an experienced Dallas personal injury lawyer to help you determine and receive a fair amount.
Shane V. Mullen is an attorney licensed by the State of Texas for the general practice of law, and the Managing Partner at Mullen & Mullen Law Firm in Dallas, TX. His firm focuses exclusively on personal injury law and has been in business for 40 years. Before becoming a lawyer, Shane worked for his father as an accident injury claims investigator.