McDonald’s Case 411 – Hot Coffee – Aronberg, Aronberg & Green
When many people hear of a “personal injury lawyer” the first thing that comes to mind is often a money-hungry legal professional solely interested in instigating frivolous lawsuits. Perhaps the most well known (albeit convoluted) perception of a frivolous lawsuit is that of Stella Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants (otherwise known as the McDonalds coffee lawsuit). Often people hear of the case and assume that it involves some below-the-poverty-line woman who thought she’d get rich from suing a multi-billion dollar corporation for something insignificant.
The facts are much more startling. In this blog, I’d like to explore the case in some depth, and give readers the opportunity to truly understand the case. If this case can be better understood, perhaps the field of personal injury law can be vindicated. This case was not a get-rich-quick scheme, and neither are the vast majority of cases handled by personal injury lawyers. Unfortunately, this ever-advancing world that we live in lends itself to increased risks of danger, and just like it’s necessary to consult a lawyer before making any significant decision with legal ramifications, it’s just as important to hire a lawyer to help you seek the justice that you deserve.
So, what exactly happened in the McDonalds case? Well, on February 27th, 1992, Stella Liebeck was driven through a McDonalds drive-thru in New Mexico by her grandson and she ordered a 49 cent cup of coffee. After she purchased it, her grandson pulled into a parking spot so that she could put cream and sugar in her coffee. As she tried to hold the cup of coffee between her knees, it slipped backward and poured all over her inner thighs. Now, the fact that the coffee slipped was her fault, but the fact that, within seven seconds, the coffee caused third degree burns and burned 16% of the skin on her body – that was McDonald’s fault. Ms. Liebeck’s thighs looked like they had been directly attacked by a blowtorch.
If you have a weak stomach, please ignore the following. But if you don’t, please check out the photos of her burns.
This case was not about a woman who broke her nail and asked for millions. This is about a SEVENTY-NINE year old woman who suffered immense burns and simply asked for McDonald’s to COVER HER MEDICAL EXPENSES. Following a calculation of past medical expenses, future expected medical expenses and lost wages, her legal team asked McDonalds for $20,000. Guess what their maximum offer was? $800! McDonald’s offered significantly less than 5% of the cost of her medical bills and lost wages!
During the trial, in 1994, her legal team discovered that McDonald’s franchises were required to keep coffee at a nice warm temperature of 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Any liquid at that temperature would cause third degree burns in 2-7 seconds. Eventually, Ms. Liebeck was awarded several hundred thousand dollars in compensation for her medical expenses. However, the judge struck down the ruling and Liebeck settled with McDonalds for an undisclosed amount.
This case changed the face of the tort world. Supporters of “tort reform” used it as propaganda for limiting the amount that a plaintiff could be awarded. They exploit Ms. Liebeck’s pain as insignificant and portray her as a greedy money-grubber. This was not only a smear campaign directed at Ms. Liebeck; it tarnished the reputation of the personal injury specialty in the legal profession.
If more people knew the true horrors between a great deal of these personal injury cases, legislators would be much slower to vilify personal injury attorneys – lawyers who try to seek compensation for their traumatically injured clients. If you need help, we’re here for you.
For questions on this case or any other legal matter, please contact the Law Offices of Aronberg and Aronberg at 561-266-9191 or email us at email@example.com