• Food

If You Scoffed At This McDonald’s Hot Coffee Lawsuit, You’re Completely Wrong And Need To Know It

Over the years, the McDonald's hot coffee lawsuit has become heavily associated with the supposed epidemic of frivolous lawsuits in the United States. Most people see the case as the story of a woman who clumsily spilled coffee on her own lap and sued McDonald's in retaliation. However, that is largely untrue and only a fraction of the story. 

The McDonald's coffee lawsuit was really serious. Stella Liebeck, who spilled coffee on her lap on February 27, 1992, suffered serious burns that required hospitalization. And Liebeck sued McDonald's only when they refused to pay her medical bills. During the subsequent trial, McDonald's representatives displayed a disturbing lack of regard for public safety.

If you thought the McDonald's lawsuits was frivolous, guess again. The lawsuit actually shines a light on how the franchise operates (or operated), illustrating how the company placed profits ahead of the health and safety of its consumers. The case is continuously cited in pop-culture, but the facts are largely misrepresented. In 2011, the Hot Coffee documentary was released, which attempted to dispel misinformation about the case.

Here is the true story of how Stella Liebeck sued McDonald's over a cup of steaming hot coffee. 

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  • Liebeck Never Wanted To Go To Court Or Profit Off The Incident

    Stella Liebeck was not a malicious woman eager to drag the McDonald’s name through the dirt and get her moment in the spotlight. She never wanted the national attention and, in fact, never wanted to go to court.

    She wasn't actually seeking to profit off the incident either. She only wanted McDonald’s to pay her medical bills, which came out to around $20,000. Liebeck only sued after McDonald’s refused to pay her bills. Instead, the corporation offered her a mere $800.

    Additionally, Liebeck never once blamed the spill itself on McDonald’s. She took full responsibility for handling the coffee poorly, resulting in the spilling. However, she believed the coffee was dangerously hot, and had it been kept at a reasonable temperature, the spill would have been a minor inconvenience instead of an incident that caused severe burns.

  • Young Children Had Been Burned By McDonald's Coffee

    As the case wore on, more disturbing stories about McDonald’s coffee surfaced. It wasn't just grown men and women getting burned by the coffee, there had been numerous cases of children receiving burns as well. Even worse, these burns were often due to McDonald’s employees accidentally spilling coffee while serving guests.

  • McDonald's Representatives Knew The Risks But Seemingly Did Nothing

    Witnesses from the McDonald's corporation admitted they had known the risks surrounding the coffee’s temperature for over 10 years, and that consumers were not adequately informed. McDonald’s representatives offered no explanation as to why the public was not made aware of the dangers of their coffee. They also claimed to have had no plans to reduce the temperature of their coffee in the future. 

  • Liebeck Was Not Driving At The Time Of The Accident

    One of the reasons the public saw the lawsuit as frivolous was the perception that Liebeck had caused her own injuries by driving while drinking coffee. However, this was actually not the case.

    She was a passenger when the injury occurred and the car wasn't even moving. She spilled the coffee while adding cream and sugar from the passenger seat of a parked car.