Reality Check on the McDonald’s Lawsuit

As a tribute to my ill-advised Sonic experience this weekend, I would like to direct you to a reality check on the McDonald’s coffee lawsuit via this post at Suburban Guerrilla. Selected bullet points:

  • A vascular surgeon determined that Liebeck suffered full thickness burns (or third-degree burns) over 6 percent of her body.
  • She was hospitalized for eight days, during which time she underwent skin grafting and debridement treatments (the surgical removal of tissue).
  • Liebeck sought to settle her claim for $20,000, but McDonald’s refused.
  • During discovery, McDonald’s produced documents showing more than 700 claims by people burned by its coffee between 1982 and 1992. Some claims involved third-degree burns substantially similar to Liebeck’s.
  • McDonald’s also said during discovery that, based on a consultant’s advice, it held its coffee at between 180 and 190 degrees Fahrenheit to maintain optimum taste. Coffee served at home is generally 135 to 140 degrees.
  • McDonald’s own quality assurance manager testified that a burn hazard exists with any food substance served at 140 degrees or above and that McDonald’s coffee was not fit for consumption because it would burn the mouth and throat.
  • The jury awarded Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages. This amount was reduced to $160,000 because the jury found Liebeck 20 percent at fault in the spill. The jury also awarded Liebeck $2.7 million in punitive damages, which equals about two days of McDonald’s coffee sales.

Several of my relatives who shall remain nameless often bring up this case as proof that America has become a decadent society of lawsuit-happy slackers. Next time I will be prepared to beg to differ.

2 thoughts on “Reality Check on the McDonald’s Lawsuit

  1. Stepho

    Yup – good friend studied this one in law school and I learned similar stuff to this post. Basically, it makes a nifty soundbite for people to bitch about, but the case itself was much more complicated than the 5 second media clips that it got

  2. Siobhan41

    Tony has come to dread “jokey” references to this case, because whenever I hear one, I tend to yell “Her labia were fused together!” at the offending party. (Sorry I can’t remember where I heard that factoid, and it is way too early–and I’m way to undercaffeinated–for me to deal with the outcome of a “labia” search on Google.)

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