Case brief Parties: Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants. [15] During the case, Liebeck's attorneys discovered that McDonald's required franchisees to serve coffee at 180–190 °F (82–88 °C). McDonald's refused Morgan's offer to settle for $90,000. In 1992, Stella Liebeck spilled scalding McDonald’s coffee in her lap and later sued the company, attracting a flood of negative attention. 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. 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. [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). 113 (October 2001), which describes the accident in detail, Amended Complaint about Damages, Stella LIEBECK, Plaintiff, v. MCDONALD'S RESTAURANTS, P.T.S, Inc. and McDonald's Corporation, Defendants. 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. In the process, she spilled the entire cup of coffee on her lap. Reality: Mrs. Liebeck spent six months attempting to convince McDonald's to pay $15,000 to $20,000 to cover her medical expenses. 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. “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. She had to be hospitalized for eight days, and she required skin grafts and other treatment. She had already incurred medical expenses worth $10,500; future medical expenses were estimated at $2,500 and the whole incident cost her loss of income amounting to approximately $5,000. 1993 WL 13651163, District Court of New Mexico, (Bernalillo County, N.M. Dist. The case is Liebeck v. McDonalds. Since Liebeck, McDonald's has not reduced the service temperature of its coffee. [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]. 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. The trial took place from August 8–17, 1994, before Judge Robert H. 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. [2] Lowering the temperature to 160 °F (71 °C) would increase the time for the coffee to produce such a burn to 20 seconds. McDonald’s offered Liebeck only $800—which did not even cover her medical expenses. She ordered a cup of coffee at the drive-through and it was served to her in a Styrofoam cup. [40], "Hot coffee case" redirects here. 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. On June 27, 2011, HBO premiered a documentary about tort reform problems titled Hot Coffee. Scott. This included news clips, comments from celebrities and politicians about the case, as well as myths and misconceptions, including how many people thought she was driving when the incident occurred and thought that she suffered only minor superficial burns. [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. 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. 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. 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. Facts: Stella Liebeck, a 79-year old woman from Albuquerque in New Mexico, bought a cup of coffee at McDonald’s drive-in restaurant. a) The coffee was heated at that temperature for an unrelated capitalistic reason, and. Though there was a warning on the coffee cup, the jury decided that the warning was neither large enough nor sufficient. Fact: Stella Liebeck, the so-called “McDonald’s lady,” was 79 years old at the time of this accident. Liebeck's attorney, Reed Morgan, and the Association of Trial Lawyers of America defended the result in Liebeck by claiming that McDonald's reduced the temperature of its coffee after the suit, although it is not clear whether McDonald's in fact had done so. Thought the McDonald's Hot Coffee Spilling Lawsuit was Frivolous? 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. [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. [8] It contends that corporations have spent millions promoting misconceptions of tort cases in order to promote tort reform. Mrs. Liebeck also asked McDonald's to consider changing the excessive temperature of its coffee so others would not be similarly harmed. Case Study: The True Story Behind the McDonald's Coffee Lawsuit. That is usually enough time to wipe away the coffee. Back in 1994, Stella Liebeck v. McDonalds Restaurants became one of the most talked about lawsuits in American history. This case received a great deal of publicity and became a prime example for frivolous lawsuits which garnered large monetary damages. B.J. 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. Stella Liebeck Vs Mcdonalds Case Study. They awarded Mrs. Liebeck $200,000 but found her 20% at fault for her injuries thus reducing her award to $160,000. 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. [39], An October 25 follow-up article noted that the video had more than one million views and had sparked vigorous debate in the online comments. Liebeck v. McDonald's Introduction The Liebeck v. McDonald’s case is a very popular case that occurred in 1992. The case is cited frequently as a sign of lawsuit-happy citizens, and frivolous cases. They awarded Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages, which was then reduced by 20% to $160,000. 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. [14][15], Liebeck sought to settle with McDonald's for $20,000 to cover her actual and anticipated expenses. To this day, that New Mexico state court case is an essential component of any tort reform debate or discussion of litigation lore. 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. A McDonald's Quality Control manager testified that McDonald's knew of the risk of dangerously hot coffee. Stella was not actually driving; her grandson, Chris, was driving his 1989 Ford Probe. The 1994 case of Stella Liebeck v. McDonald’s fast food chain is one of the most notorious cases of its kind. 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. That amounted to about two days of revenue for McDonald’s coffee sales. The jury awarded Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages -- reduced to $160,000 because the jury found her 20 percent at fault -- and $2.7 million in punitive damages for McDonald’s callous conduct. As per the New York Times, the jurors arrived at this figure from Morgan's suggestion to penalize McDonald's for two days' worth of coffee revenues, which were about $1.35 million per day. 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. McDonald's had refused several prior opportunities to settle for less than what the jury ultimately awarded. However, should McDonald's or any business be required to pay these types of claims? Liebeck sought to settle with McDonald's for $20,000 to cover her actual and anticipated expenses. Because of extreme hot coffee she got third degrees burn in … This case was not only popular but grossly misinformed as most of the events of this case were factually incorrect when reported to … [2], The trial took place from August 8–17, 1994, before New Mexico District Court Judge Robert H. The Full Story Behind the Case and How Corporations Used it to Promote Tort Reform? Scott. 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. When the case went to trial, the jurors saw graphic photos of Liebeck’s burns. McDonald's offered $800. [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]. [13] Liebeck suffered permanent disfigurement after the incident and was partially disabled for two 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". Rupa Luitel Business Law I Prof. Jerry Sep.10 2016 Drop Box 1 Stella Liebeck vs. McDonald 's case become one of the hot news in 1992, When Stella sued McDonald 's for serving excessive hot coffee. [3], The case was said by some to be an example of frivolous litigation;[4] ABC News called the case "the poster child of excessive lawsuits",[5] while the legal scholar Jonathan Turley argued that the claim was "a meaningful and worthy lawsuit". The “McDonald’s Coffee Case” is the most cited example of how out of control things supposedly are. When McDonald's refused to raise its offer, Liebeck retained Texas attorney Reed Morgan. Before you answer first read about the case by googling Liebeck v. McDonalds on Wikipedia to educate yourself about the facts. In 1994, a spokesman for the National Coffee Association said that the temperature of McDonald's coffee conformed to industry standards. 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… She removed the lid of coffee and placed it between her legs. [26][needs update] They further stated that the vast majority of judges who consider similar cases dismiss them before they get to a jury. 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. 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 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. Liebeck placed the coffee cup between her knees and pulled the far side of the lid toward her to remove it. [2] McDonald's quality control manager, Christopher Appleton, testified that this number of injuries was insufficient to cause the company to evaluate its practices. But even after that, the myth of “the woman who got rich after abusing the court system over spilled coffee” persisted. 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. 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. On February 27, 1992, Stella Liebeck, 79 years old, pulled into the drive-through of a McDonalds restaurant in Albuquerque, New Mexico and ordered a cup of coffee. When the case went to trial, the jurors saw graphic photos of Liebeck’s burns. [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]. 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 woman was 79-year old Stella Liebeck who lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico. 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. As we all know, the case became fodder for late … Something went wrong. 190 degree coffee causes 3rd degree burns in under 3 seconds. [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. 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". She was in the passenger seat of a car driven by her grandson. McDonald’s offered Liebeck only $800—which did not even cover her medical expenses. A twelve-person jury reached its verdict on August 18, 1994, before Judge Robert H. Scott very case. 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