The Enduring Legacy of Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants
NEW YORK, NEW YORK (March 14, 2023) – Liebeck’s vs. McDonald’s Restaurants is one of the most famous personal injury lawsuits in the United States.
It is one of a relatively small number of lawsuits that deals with the obligations that companies have when they serve hot drinks.
In 1992, 79-year-old Stella Liebeck was seriously burned while attempting to drink a coffee from McDonald’s. Her coffee spilled in her lap leaving her with serious second and third degree burns.
Contrary to what many in the media and popular culture have claimed, Mrs. Liebeck was not driving when she spilled coffee on her lap. Instead, she was a passenger in a parked car at the McDonald’s parking lot.
The cup was between her knees as she was removing the lid in order to add cream and sugar. Stella Liebeck and her attorney initially offered to settle the claim for $20,000 for her medical bills and lost wages.
McDonald’s rejected that offer and only offered her $800 before the case went to trial.
There are a number of facts that came out at trial.
- At the time of the incident, McDonald’s operations manual instructed every franchisee to keep its coffee between 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature, spilled coffee can cause third-degree burns in as little as three seconds.
- McDonald’s admitted that it knew about the risk of serious burn injuries from its coffee. Between 1982 and 1992 more than 700 people were burned by McDonald’s coffee. Many of these claims resulted in lawsuits.
- McDonald’s own quality assurance manager said that the temperature at which the company poured its coffee made it unfit for human consumption.
- McDonald’s admitted that it failed to warn customers about the extent of the risk that went along with ordering and consuming its coffee.
A jury awarded Stella Liebeck $2.7 million, though much of the punitive damages were substantially reduced by the judge presiding at trial. There are a number of important insights that can be found in the case.
By all measures, McDonald’s was callously indifferent to the extent of the harm caused by its hot coffee. To limit further exposure to liability from lawsuits related to hot coffee burns, the company began putting warnings on all of its coffee cups.
Getting Help If You’ve Been Burned By Hot Coffee
In general, people are able to file lawsuits if they are burned by coffee or any other liquid that is too hot. Moreover, company’s that serve coffee and other hot beverages expose themselves to tort liability when they fail to warn consumers about the dangers associated with their hot drinks.
Do you need any type of help after being burned by hot coffee from a restaurant? Our team of personal injury attorneys at Gersowitz Libo & Korek, P.C. are here for you. We care deeply that accident victims are aware of their rights and that those rights are being protected. Whether you just have legal questions or are thinking about hiring an attorney we may be able to help. You can reach out to us anytime at 800-529-9997.