McDonald’s lost the coffee lawsuit because it served coffee to a 79-year-old that was so hot that it caused third-degree burns to 16% of her body in three seconds. While many in the news made elderly Stella Liebeck’s lawsuit an example of what is wrong with the U.S. legal system, she had a legitimate legal claim.
How Hot was McDonald’s Coffee?
While most home coffee makers normally serve coffee around 140℉ (60℃), McDonald’s coffee was approximately 190℉ (87℃), and experts during the trial testified that McDonald’s coffee was 30 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than coffee served by other companies.
Liebeck’s burns were so severe that:
- 16% of her body was burned away,
- She required skin graft surgeries,
- She was hospitalized for eight days, and
- Her recovery lasted two years
Liebeck, through her attorney, had no choice but to sue McDonald’s for the coffee. During the lawsuit, Liebeck tried to settle the case for $20,000 which was enough to cover her medical bills. However, McDonald’s only wanted to give her $800.
Evidence came out that 700 other people were burned by McDonald’s coffee, yet the company never changed its policy
The jury awarded Stella Liebeck $2.7 million, though the amount was later reduced on appeal.
What Occurred after the Lawsuit?
After the lawsuit, McDonald’s improved its coffee cup’s packaging to better hold hot coffee and it added a stronger warning label. In addition, the lawsuit is very controversial and has strong supporters for and against the lawsuit.
So, why did McDonald’s lose the coffee lawsuit? Imagine how this entire lawsuit could have been avoided had McDonald’s simply paid Stella Liebeck the $20,000.
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