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Separating Fact from Fiction in the Famous McDonald's Coffee Lawsuit

mcdonalds coffee lawsuit court cash award settlement fact vs fiction

The McDonald’s coffee case. Everyone knows about the case: a lady spilled hot coffee on her lap, goes to court, and is awarded $3 million.

Did we get the infamous 1994 McDonalds’s coffee case wrong? The case presents Stella Liebeck as greedy. It portrays a lady who got rich from a dumb mistake.

Stella Liebeck was driving her car while holding the coffee between her legs. Why then sue McDonald's when she knew that holding coffee with her legs while driving is dangerous? She must then have been greedy for money.

Stella Liebeck’s McDonald's coffee lawsuit made waves when it hit the news years back, but what was true and what was a myth? Let’s find the facts.


McDonald's Knew Their Coffee Was Too Hot

The McDonalds coffee served to Stella Liebeck was roughly 180 degrees Fahrenheit. McDonald's franchise admitted that the temperature was their standard. Industry analysis revealed that other restaurants provided coffee at 135 degrees or lower on average.

This indicated that McDonald's was selling coffee 45 degrees higher than the average. Coffee at 180 degrees when spilled causes third-degree burns in 2 to 6 seconds. Third-degree burns destroy the skin tissues to an extent they don't regenerate.

McDonald's acknowledged that coffee at this temperature would result in serious burns. They also admitted not conducting studies of dangers hot coffee had to customers.


There Were Other McDonald’s Coffee Lawsuits

Stella Liebeck was not alone. Between the years 1980 and 1992, there were over 700 McDonalds complaints. Other customers had filed for damages against McDonald's. Similarly, these customers had coffee burns like Ms. Liebeck’s.

From this view, it shows McDonald's had noticed that the coffee could harm customers. They, however, did nothing to reduce the temperature of their hot coffee.


Stella Got a Serious Burn

Stella sustained the worst burns from the coffee spill. She had third-degree burns, which are the most serious case. She suffered burns in the thigh and other sensitive parts. She was in a hospital bed for eight days.

Her skin was severely burnt, and she had to undergo skin grafting. This left permanent scars in her thigh region. Further, she attended therapy for over two years.


Stella Was Old and in The Company of Her Grandson

Stella Liebeck was not middle-aged at the time of incidence as it is painted. She was 79 and in the company of her grandson. She was a passenger in their car when the accident occurred. The accident didn't occur while she was driving.


Stella Never Demanded a Million Dollars

Ms. Liebeck offered to receive a mere $20,000 in damages to settle the case with McDonald's, which they refused. The case went to court where the judge awarded Stella $160,000 as compensatory damages. She was then awarded a punitive award of $480,000.

This just goes to show that she had a good lawyer. As such, if you are filing a lawsuit, you need to find a lawyer with a reputable background.


Personal Injury Suits

The McDonald's coffee lawsuit is a wake-up call. We should not believe every news headline. In this case, Ms. Liebeck was an innocent lady seeking redress for fatal injuries.

The headlines were full of half-truths, but Ms. Liebeck‘s lawyer argued the facts and won the case.

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