It’s one of the most famous lawsuits in the country.
A woman spills coffee on herself, and files a lawsuit against McDonalds because the coffee was hot. She wins a million dollars, and becomes the poster child of “frivolous lawsuits”.
What if everything you’ve heard about the hot coffee lawsuit is wrong?
In this 5-minute video, you’ll learn what really happened.
Stella Liebeck was 79 years old. McDonalds served her coffee so hot that it caused third-degree burns on her legs and groin. She had to have painful skin grafts, and multiple surgeries.
Ms. Liebeck didn’t want to file a lawsuit. She asked McDonalds to pay the medical bills not covered by insurance—about $20,000.
After six months, McDonalds offered her $800.
The hot coffee lawsuit goes to trial
The case went to trial, and McDonalds admitted that more than 700 people had reported burns from the coffee’s extremely hot temperature.
They admitted that the coffee makers were purposefully set to 190 degrees, so they could serve it for longer.
A jury awarded Stella Liebeck the equivalent of two days worth of coffee sales, about $2.7 million.
McDonalds appealed the jury verdict. The case eventually settled for $600,000.
This case was unusual: an elderly woman won a lawsuit against a score of corporate lawyers. But the corporate lawyers retaliated, publicly humiliating her and creating the absurd notion of an epidemic of “frivolous lawsuits”… an idea that has benefited corporations, not citizens.
A 2011 documentary film explores this case and the lawsuit in great detail.
“Hot Coffee”: How the infamous McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit and similar cases were exploited as part of a right wing crusade to weaken civil justice.