The McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case

Frivolous Lawsuits that Actually Aren’t: A closer look at the “Hot Coffee” Case

The McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case is decades old, but it still serves to teach us a lot about personal injury lawsuits and how to protect ourselves against big corporations when we suffer harm at their hands.  It is easy to think that people are too ‘lawsuit happy” these days with news of a lawsuit of one type or another making headlines every week. Yet, I frequently receive calls from people with legitimate claims for their injuries, whether it’s a slip and fall because a store couldn’t clean up a spill within a reasonable time, a collision with an eighteen-wheeler because the driver was under pressure to meet quotas, or a car wreck due to another person’s failure to keep an effective lookout. All of these incidents can devastate a family physically, emotionally, and financially.

So why do personal injury attorneys and personal injury lawsuits get a bad reputation? It’s partially because big verdicts make for great headlines. The more the news travels, the less in-depth the coverage of the details become. For instance, everyone has heard about the McDonald’s “hot coffee” case, but not many people take the time to learn about the facts of the underlying cases.

Facts of the McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case:

It’s been over twenty-one years since the McDonald’s hot coffee case was decided, but many still don’t know details, including the following:

  • McDonald’s heated their coffee way above industry standards (180-190 degrees versus 135 to 140 degrees);
  • McDonald’s knew their coffee was hotter than average (it had burned many other people before Ms. Liebeck);
  • The temperature of the coffee weakened the structural integrity of the coffee cup, causing it to break easily;
  • Liebeck, who was 79 years old at the time, suffered third-degree burns on her genitals, inner thighs, and buttocks; and
  • Liebeck was hospitalized for eight days, undergoing numerous skin grafts. She initially sought to settle her entire claim for $20,000 (the cost of her medical expenses), which McDonald’s refused.


Law Suits for Personal Injury:

The McDonald’s hot coffee suit illustrates the dangers of corporations proceeding without proper regard to the potential for harm. Almost all personal injury suits start with a person who has been injured in some way and another person or company who refuses to own up to their mistake. Most plaintiffs are ordinary people who tried to seek an out of court resolution to their problem, only to be stonewalled by businesses or insurance companies. Lawsuits for negligence, deceptive trade practices, breach of contract, and other actions exist so that ordinary people can bring a company or corporation to an equal playing field to answer for their actions in court.


Fort Worth Personal Injury Attorney:

If you feel that you have been injured or wronged in some way and you are being ignored, seek advice from an attorney. Most will tell you if you have a legitimate complaint or not. While you may be tempted to act as your own attorney, remember that you only get one chance to make things right. If you file suit and lose, or even just make a mistake, you will not get a “do over.” Many personal injury causes of action have procedural requirements that are unfamiliar to a non-lawyer. If you have a potential personal injury suit that you would like to talk to an attorney about, call our Personal Injury Attorneys at Gardner & Smith at (817) 737-4000 for a free consultation.



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