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.