Famous Injury Lawsuit Series

The Hot McDonald’s Coffee Case


It’s a case that sent shockwaves around the country in the early 1990s because it was a bit unconventional when it came to the typical personal injury cases that most people hear about: the McDonald’s hot coffee case. Most people have heard about this case on some level, and because the case was beyond the norm, it actually went to trial. The majority of personal injury cases tend to settle out of court, but because McDonald’s offered such a low settlement amount to the plaintiff and refused to budge, it was ultimately up to the jury to decide.

In a nutshell, the lawsuit claimed that 79-year-old Stella Liebeck spilled hot McDonald’s coffee on her lap in a drive-thru, and as a result, sustained serious burn injuries. Many people dismissed the lawsuit as being frivolous, stating that coffee was clearly meant to be hot, and that she shouldn’t have been drinking a hot beverage while driving. However, upon examining the details of the case further, it seems that there is more to the case after all.

First and foremost, the plaintiff was a passenger inside the car when the spill occurred. The car was parked, and the coffee was so scalding hot that the plaintiff sustained third-degree burns as a result. The burns were so severe that she needed skin grafts. Although the spotlight was centered on this particular case, McDonald’s had already received more than 700 reports of similar cases by this time, which also included third-degree burns and paid settlements.

Because McDonald’s only agreed to settle the case for $800, and the plaintiff’s legal team requested a $20,000 settlement, the lawsuit ended up going to trial. There was a lot of evidence presented in this trial that was in the plaintiff’s favor. For example, it was revealed that the McDonald’s operations manual required coffee to be a piping 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Liquids this hot can easily cause third-degree burns in as little as three to seven seconds. McDonald’s, in fact, admitted that they were aware of the serious risk involved for more than 10 years by serving coffee to customers at these high temperatures. A quality assurance manager also admitted that at this temperature, it was far too hot to be consumed.

After hearing all of the evidence that was presented on both sides, the jury decided that while McDonald’s was liable in this case, the plaintiff was also partially at fault. As a result, the final monetary settlement amount was reduced. The plaintiff was still awarded nearly $3 million at the end of the trial, which is clearly a much higher amount than the $20,000 that the plaintiff initially requested from McDonald’s, and significantly higher than their original $800 settlement offer.

This particular lawsuit is a good example of how there are many different incidents that can classify as a personal injury and may result in large monetary settlements. No matter the details surrounding the specifics of your lawsuit, waiting for a case to finalize can be daunting, especially if it goes to trial. As demonstrated in this particular example with the McDonald’s case, lawsuits can be unpredictable and complex cases may be especially time-consuming. Plaintiffs do have other options, however, if they would like to receive some money sooner. Pre-settlement funding, also known as a lawsuit advance, is a way for plaintiffs with qualifying cases to receive some funds before their case officially finalizes. At USClaims, we’re here to help if you need money to pay for expenses that may be stacking up. Contact us today to learn more about the process and to find out if your lawsuit is eligible for an advance.

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