One of the most famous lawsuits in recent history is the case of Liebeck v. McDonald’s. You may remember this case as the woman who spilled McDonald’s coffee, sued, and got millions of dollars out of it. However, that is the story mass media wanted you to hear. The story of a money-seeking customer suing a big company for big bucks. In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
What had actually happened was far different than what news outlets and late night TV hosts were saying. Actually, Mrs. Stella Liebeck, a 79-year-old woman, had gone to a McDonald’s with her grandson, who was driving. After purchasing a cup of coffee, as the car stopped, Liebeck tried to hold the cup securely between her knees while removing the lid. The cup tipped over and as a result spilled scolding (keyword: scolding) hot coffee onto herself. She received third-degree burns over 16 percent of her body. Was hospitalized for a total of eight days, had whirlpool treatment for debridement of her wounds, skin grafting, scarring, and was disabled for more than two years! Guess the media forgot to mention that.
The sad part about all this is that poor Liebeck wasn’t even trying to sue for millions of dollars but instead wanted only to be compensated for her medical bills. She offered to settle for $20,000, however, McDonald’s refused to settle and offered a mere $800. According to Liebeck’s attorney, S. Reed Morgan, McDonald’s was serving their coffee at 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit!
If spilled, coffee at this temperature will cause third-degree burns within two to seven seconds. That’s quicker than the amount of time it took you to read this sentence. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), third Degree burns destroy both the epidermis and the dermis to where the skin cannot regenerate. The skin is burned all the way down to the muscle/fatty tissue layer. Although third-degree burns are often painless, the pain comes from the first and second-degree burns that surround the third-degree burns.
The shocking part of this ordeal is that McDonald’s had admitted to knowing about the risk of serious burns from its coffee for more than 10 years! How did they know? Well, it turns out that between the years of 1982-1992, McDonald’s coffee had burned more than 700 people from adults to infants, according to claims that had been filed. McDonald’s finally admitted that its coffee was not “fit for consumption” because of the severe risks.
The jury awarded Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages and $2.7 million in punitive damages for McDonald’s callous conduct. A month after the trial, the judge reduced the jury’s punitive damages award to $640,000.
It’s always encouraged to know the facts before buying into misrepresented and sensationalized stories. This particular product liability issue affected the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of people. Holding major companies accountable for their negligence is extremely important for the safety of everyone.
If you have been injured due to the negligence of another, contact Herrman & Herrman to speak with an experienced attorney. Call 361-792-2358 to schedule your free consultation today!