All McDonald's restaurants served coffee between 180 and 190 degrees. Reality: Mrs. Liebeck spent six months attempting to convince McDonald's to pay $15,000 to $20,000 to cover her medical expenses. But the facts of the case tell a very different story. But even after that, the myth of “the woman who got rich after abusing the court system over spilled coffee” persisted. The NYTimes put out a mini documentary as part of their ‘Retro Report’ video series, taking a closer look at the case of 79-year-old Stella Liebeck, who famously sued McDonald’s 20 years ago and was awarded 2.9 million dollars.. Liebeck ordered coffee at a McDonald’s drive-through in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1992. As she removed the lid, the entire contents of the cup spilled into her lap. We might want to live in a world in which coffee can be served above 110F without fear of … McDonald's responded with a letter offering $800. Please check your entries and try again. In 2011, trial lawyer Susan Saladoff made a documentary, “Hot Coffee,” that exposed the true story and corrected some of the public perception of the case. Even the punitive damages award, which resulted from exceptionally callous behavior on the part of McDonald’s, was reduced by the court to a number decidedly below $1 million. “Tort law is being run into the ground, maligned, caricatured and slandered because it’s effective,” says Nader, who described the conservative agenda of tort reform, which seeks limits on lawsuits and financial awards, as “the cruelest movement I’ve ever encountered.”. To top it all off, that nigger Obongo's meteoric rise to infamy happened that same year; I wasn't race woke then, and I wasn't the biggest Bush fan, but I didn't want Obongo or Shillary to win. At this temperature, spilled coffee causes third degree burns in less than three seconds. Finally, the video reveals that the 2.9 million dollars awarded to Liebeck was eventually lowered to about $500,000. On the one hand, truly frivolous lawsuits make sensible people want to bang their heads against the wall, but the importance of holding corporations responsible for wrongdoing shouldn’t be diminished. Hot coffee lawsuits have popped up periodically in court ever since Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants, better known as the McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit of 1994. The case ultimately settled for about $500,000. Other restaurants served coffee at 160 degrees, which takes twenty seconds to cause third degree burns. The rest is history. The trial judge later reduced this amount to $640,000 and the two parties settled out of court prior to an appeal for a lesser amount. The jury found Mrs. Liebeck to be partially at fault for her injuries, reducing the compensation for her injuries accordingly. They bought the coffee in the drive-through window and then parked the car. “The public perception of it is Stella Liebeck won a lottery,” says a professor of communications at Lakeforest University. Mrs. Liebeck offered to settle the case for $20,000 to cover her medical expenses and lost income. This case brought attention to the idea that American people may be flippant and out … The goal of the lawsuit was to try to right a wrong. (“Hot Coffee” is available in the museum’s gift shop.) However, Ms. Liebeck did not actually receive millions of dollars in damages, as the judge reduced those damages to $480,000. 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. Let’s take a look at 1994’s Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants . In the weeks and months to follow this encounter, great controversy would swirl around this woman and her latte. She spilled the coffee, was burned, and one year later, sued McDonald’s. Back in February of 1992, 79-year-old Ms. Liebeck was in the passenger’s seat of a car, assembling her morning coffee, having just gone through the drive-thru of McDonald’s with her nephew. “I didn’t start playing the violin until I was eight, even though I was desperate to do so from much earlier. Stella Liebeck was awarded only $200,000 for her serious, third-degree burns, and then the judge reduced that award to $160,000. Liebeck placed the cup between her knees and attempted to remove the plastic lid from the cup. That amounted to about two days of revenue for McDonald’s coffee sales. The company knew its coffee was causing serious burns, but it decided that, with billions of cups served annually, this number of burns was not significant. He reasoned that this amount was approximately three times the compensatory damages. He may have played the young Mozart in a film at the age of 10 and been a finalist in the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition at 14, but virtuoso violinist Jack Liebeck was a relatively late starter. Courts very frequently reduce large jury awards, but the newspapers don’t report that information. Liebeck pursued the case in court, and not to gouge the fast-food giant for cash, but to make a difference. She ultimately agreed on a confidential settlement amount from McDonald’s to avoid the lengthy appeals process. There's much contention regarding which temperatures will cause what degree of burns in what amount of time; the Burn Foundation, for example, says 156 degrees can give you third degree burns in just 1 second; the wiki on the case says Liebeck's lawyers presented evidence that 180 degree coffee could produce not just third degree but skin-graft-needing burns in 12-15 seconds, and that lowering it 20 … Places Where Your Visit Could Double the Population, Wildlife Photographer of the Year Winners Will Take Your Breath Away, Celebrate NASA's Birthday With These Incredible Images, There's a Great Story Behind This Cute Face, Collaborative Conservation: The Story Behind the Nation’s Newest Wildlife Refuge, What Went Wrong: The Story Behind the Atlantic Yards Prefab Tower, 'Up in Arms': Book Reveals More of the Story Behind the Bundys' Takeover of National Lands, The Story Behind Iceland's Volcanic Elephant, The Story Behind Spider Christmas Ornaments, 5 Work Policies U.S. Companies Should Emulate. She had to be hospitalized for eight days, and she required skin grafts and other treatment. The world’s most infamous cup of coffee spilled on February 27, 1992 in Albuquerque, NM. The coffee that burned Stella Liebeck was dangerously hot—hot enough to cause third-degree burns, even through clothes, in three seconds. In the end, for compensatory damages, Ms. Liebeck was awarded $160,000 plus an additional $2.7 million in punitive damages, a number that was reached based on two days’ worth of McDonald’s revenue from coffee sales. According to the lawsuit, the coffee served to the 79-year-old Liebeck was as hot as 180 to 190 degrees—for reference, the optimal drinking temperature for hot beverages is around 140-150 degrees. “In America, we sue for everything! Liebeck was in the hospital for a week and had $10,000 worth of medical bills, according to Retro Report. That is usually enough time to wipe away the coffee. Liebeck was awarded $200,000 in compensation for her pain and medical costs, a figure that was reduced to $160,000 because the jury found her 20 percent responsible. When the case went to trial, the jurors saw graphic photos of Liebeck’s burns. The headline-generating $2.7 million Liebeck was awarded in punitive damages (selected because it approximated two days worth of the revenues McDonald’s makes by … Mrs. Liebeck did not receive the full amount of the award approved by the judge. After hearing the evidence, the jury concluded that McDonald’s handling of its coffee was so irresponsible that Liebeck should get much more than … 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. Stella ordered a McBreakfast, and Chris pulled the car over so that she could add cream and sugar to her coffee. Liebeck’s story, like many personal injury lawsuits, got started because of one person’s injuries but revealed a larger pattern of corporate behavior that put consumers at unreasonable risk. To this day, that New Mexico state court case is an essential component of any tort reform debate or discussion of litigation lore. ... that big corporations support whole-heartedly. To this day, that New Mexico state court case is an essential component of any tort reform debate or discussion of litigation lore. Hot coffee lawsuits have popped up periodically in court ever since Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants, better known as the McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit … 190 degree coffee causes 3rd degree burns in under 3 seconds. (Two things to note: In 1992 most cars did not have cupholders, and in 1992 it was uncommon for restaurants to add the cream/sugar to coffee for you.) “Hot Coffee” a documentary about the myth of the frivolous lawsuit, focuses primarily on the now infamous Stella Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants hot coffee case of 1994.. When you ‘win a case,’ you win it for other people as … The judge on Mrs. Liebeck’s case reduced the jury’s punitive award from $2.8 million to $480,000. The compensatory damages were reduced to $160,000 because the jury found that Liebeck was at fault for 20 percent of the spill. A California woman is suing McDonald's for more than $2M over a hot coffee spill—and no, you aren't living in a 1990s time warp . But it’s also one of the most misunderstood. The jury awarded Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages but dropped this sum to $160,000 since it felt Liebeck was 20-percent at fault for her accident. “We knew, before the lawsuit was filed, that the temperature of the water was 190 degrees or so, and the franchise documents required that of the franchisee,” said Kenneth Wagner, an Albuquerque lawyer who represented Liebeck. After a jury trial, Liebeck was awarded $200,000 in compensatory damages and $2.7 million in punitive damages. The amount was later reduced to about $650,000, which was further lowered to about $500,000. An undisclosed settlement was eventually reached in the case of Liebeck vs. McDonald’s. The excessive heat was part of a McDonald’s promotion where they promised commuters that their coffee would still be hot by the time it got to their desks.Liebeck was with her grandson (who was driving) when she received the coffee from the drive-thru window. Camera! It's become a joke. “Our position was that the product was unreasonably dangerous, and the temperature should have been lower,” Wagner said. They awarded $2.7 million in punitive damages. Liebeck did indeed suffer a scald injury, and she did so by exposure to hot McDonald's coffee. Her recovery lasted two years. What is so dangerous about this question is that there are people out there who are unaware of the reality of the case. Stella Liebeck, the 79-year-old woman who was severely burned by McDonald’s coffee that she spilled in her lap in 1992, was unfairly held up as an example of frivolous litigation in the public eye. 700 other people prior to Liebeck had suffered from McDonald’s scalding coffee, yet the company maintained its policy. On the morning of February 27, 1992, 79-year-old Stella Liebeck was riding in the car with her grandson Chris. Melissa Breyer is Treehugger’s editorial director. In the end, for compensatory damages, Ms. Liebeck was awarded $160,000 plus an additional $2.7 million in punitive damages, a number that was reached based on two days’ worth of McDonald’s revenue from coffee sales. Even the punitive damages award, which resulted from exceptionally callous behavior on the part of McDonald’s, was reduced by the court to a number decidedly below $1 million. Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants is one of the most polarizing lawsuits of all time, defining the divide between plaintiff’s attorneys and tort reform activists. You can opt-out at any time. “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. “The company knew its coffee was causing serious burns,” notes the museum, “but it decided that, with billions of cups served annually, this number of burns was not significant.” Liebeck was concerned about the others who had burned, and especially that the 700 other victims included children. In 1992, 79-year old Stella Liebeck became the poster child for frivolous litigation after filing a lawsuit against McDonald’s for serving coffee that was too hot. When Stella Liebeck was burned, she was in the: (A) driver’s seat (B) passenger seat ... spending more than $500,000 to keep them out of court and did not change its policies regarding the coffee temperature. A jury eventually awarded her $2.9million and the case gained national attention- even though the final sum she was paid is still unknown. Mrs. Liebeck offered to settle the case for $20,000 to cover her medical expenses and lost income. Consumer advocates say the distorted narrative picked up speed because business interests and some lawmakers used it as a way to create a public belief that frivolous lawsuits were common and that jury verdicts were running amok, all in an effort to advance a tort reform agenda that limits consumers’ ability to hold wrongdoers accountable. 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. Incident ( called Hot coffee ) on the morning of February 27, 1992, 79-year-old Stella Liebeck awarded... Expenses and lost income to right a wrong Liebeck did not even cover her medical expenses and income. 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