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Hot Coffee -- What you might not know about the famous McDonald's case

We’ve all heard the story. Lady spills coffee on herself and sues McDonald’s for millions of dollars. She’s trying to get rich quick, right? Wasn’t she driving and not paying attention when she spilled the coffee on herself? Coffee is supposed to be hot, right? Well, maybe not so much. As with most of what the media puts out, there’s a little more to the story of Stella Liebeck, the plaintiff in the Hot Coffee Case. We’ll be discussing some of the details of this case over the next few weeks in the context of injury related lawsuits that could affect you, or someone you care about.

First, let’s run through the basic facts of the case. Stella Liebeck was a 79 year old woman from Albuquerque, New Mexico. On February 27, 1992, Stella was riding in the passenger seat of her grandson’s car as they ordered coffee from a local McDonald’s. Her grandson’s car did not have cupholders, so she held the coffee between her legs as she attempted to remove the lid to add cream and sugar. While doing so, the coffee spilled onto her thighs and groin, causing third degree burns and requiring skin grafts. Stella had to stay in the hospital for eight days and required followup care for 3 weeks, provided by her daughter. Stella suffered permanent disfigurement and was partially disabled for two years.

Before hiring a lawyer, Stella offered to settle with McDonald’s for $20,000.00, her actual and anticipated expenses. McDonald’s refused, offering only $800 to cover Stella’s costs. Stella’s attorney began working on the case and offered to settle for $90,000.00. McDonald’s again refused. Stella’s lawyer made a final pre-trial demand of $300,000.00 and a neutral third party mediator suggested McDonald’s settle for $225,000.00 just before trial. McDonald’s again refused to settle. The case then proceeded to trial. We’ll go through the trial and jury verdict in the next blog post. Stay tuned!

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