Stella Liebeck, who lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was 79 years old when her and her grandson went through the McDonald’s drive through for breakfast one morning. They parked in the parking lot so that Stella could add cream and sugar to her coffee, but she struggled with the lid and ended up putting the styrofoam cup between her legs. The cup tipped over and her legs were covered with scolding hot liquid. Her grandson rushed her to the emergency room where she was found to have burned sixteen percent of her body and 6 percent of that was third degree burns. She had to go through skin grafts, where skin was taken from another part of her body and put on top of the burns. All of her medical bills totaled to more than $10,000.
After the accident, Stella reached out to McDonalds to seek reimbursement for her medical expenses. Their response was an $800 settlement attempt. A year later, she filed a lawsuit against McDonalds stating that not only was the coffee hot, but it was too hot. This is known as “product liability” in the legal world. During the trial, the jury heard that McDonalds keeps their coffee at 190 degrees Fahrenheit and that they have had 700 complaints from customers regarding the extremely hot coffee. After hearing these facts, the jury awarded Ms. Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages but it was reduced to $160,000 due to the assumption that Ms. Liebeck was 20 percent at fault. She was also awarded $2.7 million in punitive damages, but the trial judge reduced this award to $480,000 through remittitur.
The Shriner’s Burn Institute in Cincinnati has published that serving beverages above 130 degrees Fahrenheit is dangerous. However, McDonalds has decided to keep their coffee at 158 degrees Fahrenheit. This will give you third degree burns in approximately 60 seconds instead of 3-7 seconds. In conclusion, be careful when you drink your favorite source of caffeine. If you happen to sustain third degree burns from a liquid, it is highly encouraged to seek help from a medical professional and contact a personal injury attorney.