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Hot Coffee: Part 2.

This is the second part of our blog post about the famous (infamous?) McDonald's Hot Coffee Case.  You can read Part 1 here.

So the hot coffee case against McDonald's proceeded to trial.  The evidence at trial showed that McDonald’s corporate headquarters required its franchisees to hold the temperature of their coffee between 180-190 degrees, fahrenheit of course.  

At such high temperatures, coffee causes third degree burns immediately and is not fit for human consumption.  During cross-examination, Ronald McDonald admitted that he knew about the risk of serious burns for more than ten years, and that McDonald's had received more than 700 reports of people being burned by their crazy hot coffee but didn’t bother reducing the temperature of the coffee.

Why did McDonald's insist on keeping its coffee so darn hot?  Profit.  McDonald's lured in coffee-drinking customers by offering free refills.  But you can't make any money if all of those caffeinated consumers keep going back for cup after cup.  So, McDonald's made a decision to keep the coffee dangerously hot so consumers would drink less coffee and get fewer refills.  See how long it takes you to drink 190-degree coffee from a thick styrofoam cup.  Actually, don't.

After the jury heard all of the evidence, it allotted fault for Ms. Liebeck's injuries at 80% to McDonald’s and 20% to Ms. Liebeck. This is what is known as comparative negligence, or comparative fault, and is similar to the system that is used in Missouri Courts.

Ultimately, the jury awarded Ms. Liebeck $200,000.00 in compensatory damages (to compensate her for her losses, medical bills, pain and suffering, etc.).  Her award was then reduced by $40,000.00 after the apportionment of fault for attempting to open the cup of coffee while it rested on her lap.

The jury assessed punitive damages against McDonald’s in the amount of 2.7 million dollars, or roughly 2 days of coffee revenues. Punitive damages are intended to punish a Defendant for egregious conduct, like ignoring the fact that your near-boiling coffee keeps burning people.   

The trial judge reduced the award of punitive damages to $480,000.00, for a total award of $640,000.00.  The jury’s award was appealed by McDonald's, and Ms. Liebeck settled with McDonald’s while the appeal was pending for an undisclosed amount, reportedly less than $600,000.00.   

Less than $600,000.00 for Ms. Liebeck's third degree burns, skin grafts, and an eight day hospital stay.  Not enough? Too much?  What do you think?  What did you learn? Thanks for reading.

Comments 1 Rating: Rated 4.5 star by 1 people.
Ryan Evans JUNE 17 2016
Awesome article guys!

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