Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Hot coffee, anyone?

This is an old case that people bring up when they are talking about frivolous lawsuits. Don't ya know coffee is hot? Well duhh, of course. However:
During discovery, McDonalds produced documents showing more than 700 claims by people burned by its coffee between 1982 and 1992. Some claims involved third-degree burns substantially similar to Liebecks. This history documented McDonalds' knowledge about the extent and nature of this hazard.

McDonalds also said during discovery that, based on a consultants advice, it held its coffee at between 180 and 190 degrees fahrenheit to maintain optimum taste. He admitted that he had not evaluated the safety ramifications at this temperature. Other establishments sell coffee at substantially lower temperatures, and coffee served at home is generally 135 to 140 degrees.

Further, McDonalds' quality assurance manager testified that the company actively enforces a requirement that coffee be held in the pot at 185 degrees, plus or minus five degrees. He also testified that a burn hazard exists with any food substance served at 140 degrees or above, and that McDonalds coffee, at the temperature at which it was poured into styrofoam cups, was not fit for consumption because it would burn the mouth and throat. The quality assurance manager admitted that burns would occur, but testified that McDonalds had no intention of reducing the "holding temperature" of its coffee...

McDonalds also argued that consumers know coffee is hot and that its customers want it that way. The company admitted its customers were unaware that they could suffer thirddegree burns from the coffee and that a statement on the side of the cup was not a "warning" but a "reminder" since the location of the writing would not warn customers of the hazard.

The jury originally set punitive damages at 2.7 million, but it was reduced to $480,000, 3 times the compensatory damages.

In a nutshell, McDonalds Knew their coffee was much much hotter than people were used to at home and at other places that served coffee, but they didn't care even after hundreds of cases of burns. The woman originally just tried to recover her medical expenses, if McDonalds had paid that they wouldn't have had to go through a lawsuit, which probably cost them more than they paid out to her. Too bad the higher punitive damages didn't stick.

A, not a regular coffee drinker



Blogger Lizard Eater said...

Good post. This particular case is one where, when it is brought up as an example of "stupid lawsuits," I can't keep my mouth shut. The plaintiff had to get skin grafts, for cripes sake. That means that she was sold a product that clearly was not able to be used in the way in which it was intended. Finding everything they did on discovery is what made the jury go the way it did. To make a mistake is one thing. To say, "Yes, we know that this is wrong, but we refuse to change," is another.

July 25, 2007 at 12:42 PM  
Blogger Not Muslim Anymore said...

Exactly, Lizard eater. I only found out recently that it wasn't one of those "stupid lawsuits", and I'm out to tell the world lol.

July 25, 2007 at 12:56 PM  
Anonymous uuMomma said...

Thanks for sharing this info. I didn't know this and it sure does change how you look at the facts, doesn't it.

July 25, 2007 at 1:04 PM  
Anonymous Z said...

That particular McDonald's was also sited by the health department for its overly hot coffee on numerous occasions. In addition, although the punitive damages were lowered, they ended up settling out of court for even less. How? McDonald's said "this is all we are going to give you. If you want the awarded amount, we will keep it tied up in court forever, which means you will never see a thing." So, the poor lady was forced to settle for somewhere in the neighborhood of $25,000. But, you can bet her attorney got paid. I wish I could find that info again.

July 25, 2007 at 2:06 PM  
Blogger Joel Monka said...

I've always believed that along with her award, she should have received an indictment for reckless driving. The reason it was her lap that was burned rather than her mouth was that she was eating and driving, with the coffeecup between her legs. People like that drive me up a wall.

July 25, 2007 at 2:20 PM  

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