The truth about the “McDonald’s Coffee Case”

Strike up a conversation with someone about personal injury lawsuits and more often than not the so-called “McDonalds coffee case” is brought up.  The case is usually brought up by people who will tell you they are opposed to personal injury lawsuits, they generally don’t care for people who bring injury claims and they really don’t like personal injury lawyers. Often these people take the position that the lawsuit was frivolous, that the injured lady is responsible for her own injuries and that the jury way over-compensated her.  This opinion is usually based on knowing few of the specifics of that particular case.  Wikipedia has a very good write-up of the case, Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants, that is well worth reading.  You can view it by clicking here.  Here’s a few of the high points of things you may not know about the case:

* Stella Liebeck, a 79-year old woman from Albuquerque, New Mexico, sustained third degree burns to her groin area and spent 8-days in hospital undergoing skin grafts.

* Stella offered to settle with McDonald’s for $20,000 which would include reimbursement of her $11,000 in medical costs.  In response McDonald’s offered Stella $800.

* During the lawsuit Stella’s attorneys discovered that McDonald’s required its franchisees to serve coffee at 180 to 190 degrees. At that temperature the coffee would cause a third degree burn in two to seven seconds. From 1982 to 1992 McDonald’s received 700 reports of people burned by McDonald’s coffee to varying degrees of severity.

* A 12 person jury reached a verdict on August 18, 1994 and found Stella 20% responsible for her injuries and McDonald’s 80% responsible.  The jury found that although there was a warning on the coffee cup, the warning was not large enough and was not sufficient as worded.

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