Remember the McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case? Here’s What You Didn’t Know

Twenty-five years ago, 79-year-old Stella Liebeck spilled a cup of McDonald’s coffee on her lap while driving and became a legend. Many argued, Stella should have realized how hot the coffee was and not placed it between her legs while driving. Stella was seen as an opportunist who, after carelessly burning herself, decided to sue McDonalds, coming away with a $3 million payday. This is what “everyone knows,” but, unfortunately, it’s all wrong.

For decades, consumer advocates and trial lawyers have been trying to rehabilitate Stella and get the truth about her case out to a public that’s been fed a steady diet of misinformation. Various sources, from the Consumer Attorneys of California to Adam Conover of Adam Ruins Everything on truTV, have come to Stella’s defense, raising a litany of facts that run contrary to the popular perception of the case. For example:

  • Stella’s coffee wasn’t just hot; it was dangerously hot. At 190 degrees, just below the temperature of boiling water, the coffee was hot enough to cause third-degree burns in three to seven seconds.
  • McDonald’s had been selling “too hot” coffee for 10 years, had received over 700 burn injury complaints during that decade, and at trial admitted knowing the risk.
  • Stella was not driving, or even in the driver’s seat when the spill occurred. She was in the passenger seat of a parked car.
  • Stella suffered third-degree burns on her thighs and genitals and went into shock. She nearly died.
  • Stella required skin grafts.
  • Stella did not want to sue McDonald’s but the company refused to help with her $20K plus medical bills, offering only $800 in compensation.
  • Stella agreed to mediation, but McDonald’s refused. She had no choice but to sue.
  • Stella eventually settled for $600K, not several millions or even one million.
  • As a result of Stella’s lawsuit, McDonald’s stopped selling coffee at a dangerously high temperature, making it safer for all consumers.

As Adam Conover explains, the false narrative about Stella is due in part to a concerted disinformation campaign by corporate interests to create the impression of widespread lawsuit abuse. Their aim is to discourage lawsuits and drive lawsuit “reform” that would take away significant rights for future plaintiffs. That’s why, for 25 years, Stella Liebeck has been treated as a late-night punchline rather than a reluctant hero for American consumers.

If you are injured by a dangerous product, you face an uphill battle against a powerful corporation. But in Virginia, North Carolina or South Carolina, you can trust Marcari, Russotto, Spencer & Balaban  to fight for your rights. Call us at (888) 351-1038 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

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