Hot Coffee Anyone? The True Story Behind the McDonald’s Coffee Cup Case

Most of you have heard about it.  Some of you have read about it.  Elderly woman goes to the drive-thru of a McDonald’s restaurant and orders coffee.  She picked up her coffee and left the drive-thru window.  Later, as she tried to add sugar and cream to the coffee, she accidentally spilled the coffee cup in her lap which caused horrifically painful and unsightly injuries.  And she sued McDonald’s and she won a large verdict.  Many people and organizations have assailed this story as being an example of the court system being out of control; the term “runaway verdict” has often been applied.  There are far more facts to this case than are usually told.  These facts are important but are not neatly tucked into a sound-bite.  Moreover there is a certain segment of our society which does not want the average American to realize the true facts of the case.  These facts include but are not limited to:

  • Coffee at that temperature, if spilled, causes third-degree burns (the worst kind of burn) in three to seven seconds;
  • McDonald’s admitted that it had known about the risk of serious burns from its scalding hot coffee for more than 10 years — the risk was brought to its attention through numerous other claims and suits, to no avail;
  • From 1982 to 1992, McDonald’s coffee burned more than 700 people, many receiving severe burns to sensitive areas of their anatomies;
  • McDonald’s admitted at trial that its coffee is “not fit for consumption” when sold because it causes severe scalds if spilled or drunk;
  • McDonald’s admitted at trial that consumers are unaware of the extent of the risk of serious burns from spilled coffee served at McDonald’s then required temperature;
  • The plaintiff’s treating physician testified that her injury was one of the worst scald burns he had ever seen.
  • McDonald’s did a survey of other coffee establishments in the area, and found that coffee at other places was between 30-40 degrees cooler.
  • The “runaway verdict” the plaintiff received was reduced by a judge and the parties ultimated settled for a smaller amount.

The movie “Hot Coffee” shows periodically on HBO and reveals startling facts about the McDonald’s case plus three other cases which cast serious doubt on the misconception that juries are out of control and lawsuits are mere lottery tickets.  View the trailer for the movie and order the DVD.   You can check for movie showings in your area or otherwise learn more about the case

“Hot Coffee” illustrates why we should not make statements or jump to conclusions based on hearsay and partial facts.  Jury service and elections are two key ways that the average citizen can have a direct impact on the ability to receive compensation for injuries and other damages resulting from the conduct of another.  And we must not to give in to the fallacy of the tort reform movement.  If we fall prey to the Chicken Little claims of “jackpot justice” and the ill-conceived tort reform movement, the justice system in the United States will erode and we will lose a valuable means of exacting corporate and individual responsibility.  We teach our children to take responsibility for their actions when they affect others so why should be send a different message regarding our justice system?   Hmmmmm………get involved, get educated, and stay involved and educated.


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