At this temperature, spilled coffee causes third degree burns in less than three seconds. Liebeck V. McDonald’s Restaurant A Case for the defendant Tane’ Dorsey LIEBECK V. MCDONALDS: Assumed facts • Customers buy coffee on their way to work or home and will not consume the coffee until reaching their final destination. [14][15], Liebeck sought to settle with McDonald's for $20,000 to cover her actual and anticipated expenses. Her past medical expenses were $10,500; her anticipated future medical expenses were approximately $2,500; and her daughter's[13] loss of income was approximately $5,000 for a total of approximately $18,000. The jurors awarded Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages for her pain, suffering, and medical costs, but those damages were reduced to $160,000 because they found her 20 percent responsible. Liebeck's lawyers also presented the jury with expert testimony that 190 °F (88 °C) coffee may produce third-degree burns (where skin grafting is necessary) in about 3 seconds and 180 °F (82 °C) coffee may produce such burns in about 12 to 15 seconds. Liebeck sought to settle with McDonald's for $20,000 to cover her actual and anticipated expenses. “Our position was that the product was unreasonably dangerous, and the temperature should have been lower,” Wagner said. This case was not only popular but grossly misinformed as most of the events of this case were factually incorrect when reported to … Scott. On June 27, 2011, HBO premiered a documentary about tort reform problems titled Hot Coffee. She was wearing sweatpants, which held the scalding liquid against her skin. Ct. October 5, 1993), Daniel J. Shapiro, Punitive Damages, 43 La. The jury awarded Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages and $2.7 million in punitive damages for McDonald’s callous conduct. To this day, that New Mexico state court case is an essential component of any tort reform debate or discussion of litigation lore. Stella Liebeck vs. McDonald’s Restaurants. Her grandson parked the car so that Liebeck could add cream and sugar to her coffee. But the facts of the case tell a very different story. Although a New Mexico civil jury awarded $2.86 million to plaintiff Stella Liebeck, a 79-year-old woman who suffered third-degree burns in her pelvic region when she accidentally spilled hot coffee in her lap after purchasing it from a McDonald's restaurant, ultimately Liebeck was only awarded $640,000. [37][38] The New York Times noted how the details of Liebeck's story lost length and context as it was reported worldwide. News reports claimed that Liebeck drove with her cup of McDonald’s coffee between her legs, and spilled the contents of her cup on herself, winning millions of dollars from the company. McDonald's offered $800. [6] Ex-attorney Susan Saladoff sees the manner in which the case was portrayed in the media as purposeful misrepresentation due to political and corporate influence. In 1994, a spokesman for the National Coffee Association said that the temperature of McDonald's coffee conformed to industry standards. Reality: Mrs. Liebeck spent six months attempting to convince McDonald's to pay $15,000 to $20,000 to cover her medical expenses. But McDonald’s never offered more than $800, so the case went to trial. She earned $5000 a year as a sales clerk. Although a New Mexico civil jury awarded $2.86 million to plaintiff Stella Liebeck, a 79-year-old woman who suffered third-degree burns in her pelvic region when she accidentally spilled hot coffee in her lap after purchasing it from a McDonald'srestaurant, ultimately Liebeck was only awarded $640,000. [2][12], Liebeck was taken to the hospital, where it was determined that she had suffered third-degree burns on six percent of her skin and lesser burns over sixteen percent. I have several Million dollar awards and in every one, I proved my case to the insurance company or jurors. In reality, her grandson was driving, with Liebeck in the passenger seat. However, McDonald’s refused to settle. Liebeck was in the passenger's seat of a 1989 Ford Probe which did not have cup holders. Case brief Parties: Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants. During this period, Liebeck lost 20 pounds (9.1 kg) (nearly 20% of her body weight), reducing her to 83 pounds (38 kg). All McDonald's restaurants served coffee between 180 and 190 degrees. (To put this in perspective, McDonald's revenue from coffee sales alone is in excess of $1.3 million a day.) According to news accounts, this amount was less than $500,000. That amounted to about two days of revenue for McDonald’s coffee sales. In reality, the majority of damages in the case were punitive due to McDonald's' reckless disregard for the number of burn victims prior to Liebeck. Detractors have argued that McDonald's refusal to offer more than an $800 settlement for the $10,500 in medical bills indicated that the suit was meritless and highlighted the fact that Liebeck spilled the coffee on herself rather than any wrongdoing on the company's part. [2] However, it came to light that McDonald's had done research which indicated that customers intend to consume the coffee immediately while driving. [21] The Albuquerque Journal ran the first 697 words story of the verdict, followed by the Associated Press wire, which was in turn picked up by newspapers around the world, however as the story spread, its word count grew smaller, preventing people from learning the more important details.[22]. There were differences in the way the case and the prosecution and defendants lawyers were portrayed in the film and in the McDonald’s vs. Liebeck case. Because of extreme hot coffee she got third degrees burn in … [40], "Hot coffee case" redirects here. Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants,[1] also known as the McDonald's coffee case and the hot coffee lawsuit, was a 1994 product liability lawsuit that became a flashpoint in the debate in the United States over tort reform. McDonald's had refused several prior opportunities to settle for less than what the jury ultimately awarded. [2][19], A twelve-person jury reached its verdict on August 18, 1994. Mrs. Liebeck offered to settle the case for $20,000 to cover her medical expenses and lost income. A large portion of the film covered Liebeck's lawsuit. [15] During the case, Liebeck's attorneys discovered that McDonald's required franchisees to serve coffee at 180–190 °F (82–88 °C). The case centers around a woman by the name of Stella Liebeck, who spilled hot coffee on her lap which she purchased from McDonald's. He argued that all foods hotter than 130 °F (54 °C) constituted a burn hazard, and that restaurants had more pressing dangers to worry about. [17] During the case, Liebeck's attorneys discovered that McDonald's required franchisees to hold coffee at 180–190 °F (82–88 °C). McDonald's refused Morgan's offer to settle for $90,000. Liebeck endured third-degree burns over 16 percent of her body, including her inner thighs and genitals—the skin was burned away to the layers of muscle and fatty tissue. Liebeck v. McDonald’s, also known as the McDonald’s Coffee Case, is a 1994 product liability lawsuit. It only cost her 49 cents but it serving her that drink would cost the restaurant a lot more than that when it was all said and done. Liebeck sought to settle at $20,000 with McDonald’s to cover her medical expenses. [17] Applying the principles of comparative negligence, the jury found that McDonald's was 80% responsible for the incident and Liebeck was 20% at fault. [2] Lowering the temperature to 160 °F (71 °C) would increase the time for the coffee to produce such a burn to 20 seconds. They awarded Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages, which was then reduced by 20% to $160,000. Liebeck’s case got picked up by the media, and the story that got relayed was sometimes distilled to little more than: A woman made $2.7 million by spilling coffee on herself. Key Facts Duty: The relationship between Liebeck and McDonalds was that of a paying customer and vendor. In 1992 Stella Liebeck, a 79-year old retired sales clerk, bought a 49-cent cup of coffee from a drive-through McDonald’s in Albuquerque, New Mexico. [7] In June 2011, HBO premiered Hot Coffee, a documentary that discussed in depth how the Liebeck case has centered in debates on tort reform. Lie… [35][36] The Specialty Coffee Association of America supports improved packaging methods rather than lowering the temperature at which coffee is served. In addition, they awarded her $2.7 million in punitive damages. Morgan filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico accusing McDonald's of "gross negligence" for selling coffee that was "unreasonably dangerous" and "defectively manufactured". Her past medical expenses were $10,500; her anticipated future medical expenses were approximately $2,500; and her daughter's loss of income was approximately $5,000 for a total of approximately $18,0… [2], The trial took place from August 8–17, 1994, before New Mexico District Court Judge Robert H. At that temperature, the coffee would cause a third-degree burn in two to seven seconds. They bought the coffee in the drive-through window and then parked the car. It turns out there was more to the story. When McDonald's refused to raise its offer, Liebeck retained Texas attorney Reed Morgan. [37] The report underscored that the narrative of the story was distorted in the media, in which the "condensed telling of the story created its own version of the truth" where McDonald's rather than Liebeck was portrayed as the victim. McDonald’s Coffee Case – Myth v. Facts. Liebeck v McDonalds In 1994, Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurant, also referred to as the "McDonald coffee case," was a popular case in the U.S. because it was considered frivolous. After the hospital stay, Liebeck needed care for three weeks, which was provided by her daughter. In the process, som… In 1992, Stella Liebeck of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was in the passenger seat of her grandson’s car when she was severely burned by a cup of coffee purchased at a local McDonalds’ drivethrough window. According to her daughter, "the burns and court proceedings (had taken) their toll" and in the years following the settlement Liebeck had "no quality of life", and that the settlement had paid for a live-in nurse. [27], Liebeck died on August 5, 2004, at age 91. Liebeck placed the coffee cup between her knees and pulled the far side of the lid toward her to remove it. [2] The jury damages included $160,000[citation needed] to cover medical expenses and compensatory damages and $2.7 million in punitive damages. The trial judge reduced the punitive damages to $480,000, while noting that McDonald’s behavior had been “willful, wanton, and reckless.” The parties later settled for a confidential amount. The “McDonald’s Coffee Case” is the most cited example of how out of control things supposedly are. The film also discussed in great depth how Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants is often used and misused to describe a frivolous lawsuit and referenced in conjunction with tort reform efforts. Liebeck's attorneys argued that these extra seconds could provide adequate time to remove the coffee from exposed skin, thereby preventing many burns. Liebeck v. McDonald's Introduction The Liebeck v. McDonald’s case is a very popular case that occurred in 1992. The trial judge reduced the final verdict to $640,000, and the parties settled for a confidential amount before an appeal was decided. [2] McDonald's quality control manager, Christopher Appleton, testified that this number of injuries was insufficient to cause the company to evaluate its practices. McDonald’s had received more than 700 previous reports of injury from its coffee, including reports of third-degree burns, and had paid settlements in some cases. “All the cup said was ‘contents hot,’” but that isn’t enough, Wagner noted—the warning should say how hot it is and that it could cause serious burns. Stella was not actually driving; her grandson, Chris, was driving his 1989 Ford Probe. Sid & Marty Krofft Television Productions Inc. v. McDonald's Corp. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Liebeck_v._McDonald%27s_Restaurants&oldid=991476508, Articles with incomplete citations from March 2020, All articles with broken links to citations, Articles with unsourced statements from March 2020, Wikipedia articles in need of updating from November 2017, All Wikipedia articles in need of updating, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License, This page was last edited on 30 November 2020, at 07:14. heat.”25 McDonald’s settled that case for $27,500.26 Before filing suit, Liebeck requested that McDonald’s pay $90,000 for Liebeck’s medical expenses and pain and suffering.27 McDonald’s countered with a generous offer of $800.28 Ms. Liebeck had never filed a lawsuit before in her In the process, she spilled the entire cup of coffee on her lap. [23][24][25] They also argued that the coffee was not defective because McDonald's coffee conformed to industry standards,[2] and coffee continues to be served as hot or hotter at McDonald's and chains like Starbucks. When the case went to trial, the jurors saw graphic photos of Liebeck’s burns. Mrs. Liebeck also asked McDonald's to consider changing the excessive temperature of its coffee so others would not be similarly harmed. The coffee that burned Stella Liebeck was dangerously hot—hot enough to cause third-degree burns, even through clothes, in three seconds. Thought the McDonald's Hot Coffee Spilling Lawsuit was Frivolous? [5] Jonathan Turley called the case "a meaningful and worthy lawsuit". Liebeck’s story, like many personal injury lawsuits, got started because of one person’s injuries but revealed a larger pattern of corporate behavior that put consumers at unreasonable risk. [18], Other documents obtained from McDonald's showed that from 1982 to 1992 the company had received more than 700 reports of people burned by McDonald's coffee to varying degrees of severity, and had settled claims arising from scalding injuries for more than $500,000. The plaintiffs argued that Appleton conceded that McDonald's coffee would burn the mouth and throat if consumed when served. The case is considered by some to be an example of frivolous litigation. 1993 WL 13651163, District Court of New Mexico, (Bernalillo County, N.M. Dist. [2] An "admittedly unscientific" survey by the LA Times that year found that coffee was served between 157 and 182 °F (69 and 83 °C), and that two coffee outlets tested, one Burger King and one Starbucks, served hotter coffee than McDonald's.[34]. Liebeck was hospitalized for eight days while she underwent skin grafting, followed by two years of medical treatment. Fact: Stella Liebeck, the so-called “McDonald’s lady,” was 79 years old at the time of this accident. [9], On October 21, 2013, The New York Times published a Retro Report video about the media reaction and an accompanying article about the changes in coffee drinking over 20 years. [28], In McMahon v. Bunn Matic Corporation (1998), Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote a unanimous opinion affirming dismissal of a similar lawsuit against coffeemaker manufacturer Bunn-O-Matic, finding that 179 °F (82 °C) hot coffee was not "unreasonably dangerous". Li… B.J. The goal of the lawsuit was to try to right a wrong. The case is cited frequently as a sign of lawsuit-happy citizens, and frivolous cases. Stella Liebeck's family initially asked McDonald's to cover her out-of-pocket expenses. In 1992, Stella Liebeck spilled scalding McDonald’s coffee in her lap and later sued the company, attracting a flood of negative attention. She ordered a cup of coffee at the drive-through and it was served to her in a Styrofoam cup. Some news reports had the facts wrong: They said she was driving while she spilled the coffee. The woman was 79-year old Stella Liebeck who lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “We knew, before the lawsuit was filed, that the temperature of the water was 190 degrees or so, and the franchise documents required that of the franchisee,” said Kenneth Wagner, an Albuquerque lawyer who represented Liebeck. • Given this assumed fact, … McDonald's claimed that the reason for serving such hot coffee in its drive-through windows was that those who purchased the coffee typically were commuters who wanted to drive a distance with the coffee; the high initial temperature would keep the coffee hot during the trip. a) The coffee was heated at that temperature for an unrelated capitalistic reason, and. They awarded $2.7 million in punitive damages. In 2011, trial lawyer Susan Saladoff made a documentary, “Hot Coffee,” that exposed the true story and corrected some of the public perception of the case. McDonald’s offered a mere $800 which Liebeck rejected. That is usually enough time to wipe away the coffee. This amounted to about $2,000 plus her daughter's lost wages. Her recovery lasted two years. Liebeck offered to settle the case for $20,000, but the company refused. Other restaurants served coffee at 160 degrees, which takes twenty seconds to cause third degree burns. While parked, Liebeck put the coffee cup between her knees and removed the lid to add cream and sugar, and she spilled it. The association has successfully aided the defense of subsequent coffee burn cases. As this is a regular and normal transaction, the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff to provide reasonable care in handling the coffee served At that time, and to this day, the thought of a fast food drive-thru customer spilling coffee on herself in her vehicle and later recovering a punitive verdict of $2.7 million was simply too much for many members of the public. After a weeklong trial, the 12-person jury used comparative negligence to find that McDonald’s was 80% at-fault for Mrs. Liebeck’s injuries. The trial took place from August 8–17, 1994, before Judge Robert H. As we all know, the case became fodder for late … They presented evidence that coffee they had tested all over the city was all served at a temperature at least 20°F (11°C) lower than what McDonald's served. She spilled the hot Coffee causing a third-degree burn on her inner thighs and buttocks. Reality: People did not realize how seriously they could be burned. [16] Instead, the company offered only $800. Since Liebeck, McDonald's has not reduced the service temperature of its coffee. This lawsuit became one of the most famous in the US history because after the court’s awarded Stella Liebeck $2.9 million, after she was severely burned by the coffee she brought from McDonald, there were debates over tort reform in the US. The case is Liebeck v. McDonalds. [20][2] The judge reduced punitive damages to $480,000, three times the compensatory amount, for a total of $640,000. Stella Liebeck Vs Mcdonalds Case Study. Consumer advocates say the distorted narrative picked up speed because business interests and some lawmakers used it as a way to create a public belief that frivolous lawsuits were common and that jury verdicts were running amok, all in an effort to advance a tort reform agenda that limits consumers’ ability to hold wrongdoers accountable. She had to be hospitalized for eight days, and she required skin grafts and other treatment. The facts surrounding the McDonald’s Coffee case often are grossly distorted by the media and special interest groups that are determined to deny the U.S. Constitution’s 7th amendment right to trial by jury, paint our courts in a negative light, and perpetuate the myth of frivolous lawsuits. This case received a great deal of publicity and became a prime example for frivolous lawsuits which garnered large monetary damages. Liebeck's attorneys argued that, at 180–190 °F (82–88 °C), McDonald's coffee was defective, claiming it was too hot and more likely to cause serious injury than coffee served at any other establishment. Stella Liebeck, the 79-year-old woman who was severely burned by McDonald’s coffee that she spilled in her lap in 1992, was unfairly held up as an example of frivolous litigation in the public eye. Liebeck's attorney argued that coffee should never be served hotter than 140 °F (60 °C), and that a number of other establishments served coffee at a substantially lower temperature than McDonald's. Since Liebeck, major vendors of coffee, including Chick-Fil-A,[30] Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, Wendy's, Burger King,[31] hospitals,[32] and McDonald's[33] have been defendants in similar lawsuits over coffee-related burns. Morgan offered to settle for $300,000, and a mediator suggested $225,000 just before trial, but McDonald's refused these final pre-trial attempts to settle. This particular product liability issue affected the lives of … Stella Liebeck's case was portrayed as acquisitive and soon was manipulated to represent the flaws in the civil justice system. Liebeck Vs Mcdonald's Case Study 1605 Words | 7 Pages. McDonald’s Coffee Case – Myth v. Facts The facts surrounding the McDonald’s Coffee case often are grossly distorted by the media and special interest groups that are determined to deny the U.S. Constitution’s 7th amendment right to trial by jury, paint our courts in a negative light, and perpetuate the myth of frivolous lawsuits. They heard experts testify about how hot coffee should be and that McDonald’s coffee was 30 to 40 degrees hotter than coffee served by other companies. [27], In Bogle v. McDonald's Restaurants Ltd. (2002), a similar lawsuit in England failed when the court rejected the claim that McDonald's could have avoided injury by serving coffee at a lower temperature.[29]. McDonald's Knew the Coffee was Dangerously Hot. Facts: Stella Liebeck, a 79-year old woman from Albuquerque in New Mexico, bought a cup of coffee at McDonald’s drive-in restaurant. [4] ABC News called the case "the poster child of excessive lawsuits". She opened the cup of coffee and placed between her legs. She was a passenger in her grandson’s car. Scott. Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants, also known as the McDonald's coffee case and the hot coffee lawsuit, was a 1994 product liability lawsuit that became a flashpoint in the debate in the United States over tort reform. Before you answer first read about the case by googling Liebeck v. McDonalds on Wikipedia to educate yourself about the facts. 190 degree coffee causes 3rd degree burns in under 3 seconds. It became the talk of everyone and created the discussion of abusive litigation. She removed the lid of coffee and placed it between her legs. Something went wrong. Though there was a warning on the coffee cup, the jury decided that the warning was neither large enough nor sufficient. Case Summary – Stella Liebeck vs. McDonald’s 7/29/2015 McDonald's Hot Coffee Lawsuit In 1992, news media across the United States exploded over a now-infamous personal injury case in which a woman (Stella Liebeck) was awarded just short of $3 million in damages when she spilled a cup of scalding hot coffee in her lap. Liebeck’s case was far from an isolated event. 252, 254 n.1 (1995), U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico, "A Matter of Degree: How a Jury Decided that a Coffee Spill is Worth $2.9 Million", "Legal Urban Legends Hold Sway | Tall tales of outrageous jury awards have helped bolster business-led campaigns to overhaul the civil justice system", "Hot Coffee Filmmaker Says Contributions Produce Biased Judges", "Watch Hot Coffee, a Powerful New Film on HBO June 27", "Frivolous Lawsuits and How We Perceive Them", "The must-watch TV show of the night: 'Hot Coffee' on HBO", "The McDonald's Coffee Cup Case: Separating McFacts From McFiction", "Urban legends and Stella Liebeck and the McDonald's coffee case", "Angelina and Jack McMAHON, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. BUNN-O-MATIC CORPORATION, James River Paper Company, and Wincup Holdings, L.P., Defendants-Appellees", "Bogle & Ors v McDonald's Restaurants Ltd", "Local woman sues National Franchise over coffee", "McDonald's hit with 2 hot-coffee lawsuits", "A Hot Tip for Coffee Lovers: Most Retailers Prefer to Make It Scalding", "Huntingdon & St Ives latest news - Burger chain sued after boy's ordeal", The Stella Liebeck McDonald's Hot Coffee Case FAQ. Stella Liebeck’s case against McDonald’s was not about a careless, unprincipled woman: the case was about McDonald’s “behav [ing] callously in dealing with a little old lady who had been burned by its superheated coffee.” [6] McDonald's asserts that the outcome of the case was a fluke, and attributed the loss to poor communications and strategy by an unfamiliar insurer representing a franchise. [8][9][10], On February 27, 1992, Stella Liebeck, a 79-year-old woman from Albuquerque, New Mexico, ordered a 49-cent cup of coffee from the drive-through window of a local McDonald's restaurant located at 5001 Gibson Boulevard Southeast. The Facts: This case was filed by Stella Liebeck of New Mexico, who, in February 1992, while in the passenger seat of her grandson’s car, was severely burned by McDonalds’ (The Actual facts About the McDonald’s Coffee Case, n.d.) coffee after it spilled on her legs, groin and buttocks causing third-degree burns (Bracken, 2005). [36] Similarly, as of 2004, Starbucks sells coffee at 175–185 °F (79–85 °C), and the executive director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America reported that the standard serving temperature is 160–185 °F (71–85 °C). The jury learned that 700 other people—including children—had been burned before, yet the company did not change its policy of keeping coffee at between 180 and 190 degrees. Stella Liebeck's attorney argued that coffee should never be served hotter than 140 °F (60 °C), and that a number of other establishments served coffee at a substantially lower temperature than McDonald's. [11] Liebeck was wearing cotton sweatpants; they absorbed the coffee and held it against her skin, scalding her thighs, buttocks, and groin. States’ products liability laws contain instructions about warnings: They must be in a conspicuous place and must warn the product’s user of possibly dangerous features, Wagner said. Coffee that other restaurants serve at 160 degrees can also cause third-degree burns, but it takes 20 seconds, which usually gives the person enough time to wipe away the coffee before that happens. McDonald’s offered Liebeck only $800—which did not even cover her medical expenses. Liebeck’s attorney Kenneth Wagner said Liebeck was concerned about the number of other people who had been burned by McDonald’s coffee—and that the number included children. 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