Have you heard about the woman in Albuquerque, New Mexico who sued McDonald’s after she spilled hot coffee on her legs? Many people have their own opinion about whether or not Stella Liebeck should have sued McDonald’s or not. Until you know the facts, you should not judge or point a finger. Stella Liebeck was a passenger in her nephew’s car when they stopped at a McDonald’s drive-through to purchase a hot coffee. When she opened the lid to add cream, the scalding, 180-degree coffee spilled on her upper thighs, causing third degree burns. She screamed so loud and thought she would die.
This was a relatively healthy, 71-year-old woman who held a job before this horrible accident. Her medical bills totaled approximately $10,000 and McDonald’s offered her only $800. She needed several surgeries and many skin grafts and will never be the same as she was prior to her visit to the drive through at McDonald’s. Manuals for McDonald’s franchises state that the water temperature must be maintained at 180 degrees. Medical physicians in burn units stated that hot liquids in excess of 180 degrees can cause very serious 2nd degree burns when making contact with skin or 3rd degree burns, requiring surgery, as in Stella’s case. There were 700 burn cases prior to this incident, documented by McDonald’s own records, indicating that other consumers had burned themselves from their hot coffee. When the jurors questioned McDonald’s regarding the prior cases, they “were totally indifferent and ignored consumer’s safety.” The jury awarded Ms. Leibach 2.7 million dollars, which was only two days worth of McDonald’s coffee sales. The judge reduced this to $480,000. The jury wanted to send a message.
Many say we need tort reform and we need to limit lawsuits, because if the big companies fail to pay damages, the public ends up paying. The ATRA (American Tort Reform Association) wants a fair legal system in the USA, to limit liability. This was formed in 1986 by several hundred businesses, colleges, oil and gas companies, and pharmaceutical companies. They want a cap placed on damages. The tobacco industry was funding these groups. They worried that without these caps, many doctors would be put out of practice.
Is it fair that Stella Liebeck, a hard working, honest citizen who stops to get a cup of coffee from McDonalds and scalds herself due to their neglect is required to undergo many painful surgeries and skin grafts and not be reimbursed for her medical bills? This is not justice. The big companies turn their backs on the very people that keep them in business.
If you are interested in this case and would like more information, you can currently watch the documentary Hot Coffee on HBO On Demand for free. If you would like to speak with one of our attorneys, feel free to stop by our website or contact us at 1-800-246-4878. Feel free to leave some comments on our Facebook page, as well.
Here is an image of Stella’s third degree burns. Still believe she was just looking to make some money by suing a big corporation?