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What’s the Truth About the McDonald’s Coffee Lawsuit? Myths & Facts!

mcdonalds mccafe coffee

The 1992 case is known as the McDonald’s coffee lawsuit. This event was where an elderly woman, Stella Liebeck, spilled hot coffee from McDonald’s on herself. Liebeck tried to make it seem like the incident was the fast-food chain’s fault because their coffee is made too hot.

She sued the franchise for the burns she received on her body because of the spill and won a hefty settlement. It received a lot of media attention and many questioned if it happened the way Liebeck said it did.

Read below for the truth about the McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit.

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What Was the Outcome of the McDonald’s Coffee Lawsuit Case?

Stella did end up winning the coffee lawsuit against McDonald’s. It was reported that even after all the possible evidence against her, stating that it was partially her fault, the jury found McDonald’s guilty. It was considered a lack of customer awareness of possible danger.

The temperature was considered the average temperature of a McDonald’s coffee according to their policy. Their defense was that this was the way they’ve always made their coffee and their customers preferred it. However, the company also admitted that they were aware of how badly it could injure somebody.

There is something that people might not have known about this case. Liebeck initially asked McDonald’s for $20,000 just to cover her medical expenses. McDonald’s made quite the mistake here by trying to offer her a measly few hundred dollars.

Because the offer was denied, Liebeck and McDonald’s went to trial. The outcome of the trial was a much bigger reward for Liebeck.

McDonald's McCafe
Image Credit: Erik Mclean, Unsplash

How Much Money Did Stella Liebeck Receive?

The 79-year-old woman settled in court for $200,000 plus just under $3 million in punitive damages. Although Stella did admit that it was partially her fault (i.e., not being more careful with the coffee itself), McDonald’s also admitted that they had a part to play in the incident.

The company was at fault for lacking a warning on their hot beverages alerting customers about how hot it is. There is no indication of the dangers that could be involved in a liquid at this temperature spilling on exposed skin.

There was another fact that did not support the side of McDonald’s. Apparently, there have been hundreds of previous cases against the company regarding the temperature of their coffee. Some of which had settlements out of court.

The Truth About McDonald’s Coffee Suit

It seems like an open and shut case, but why was there so much controversy around the outcome of the McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit? Well, a few things became apparent as the case was going on.

The first thing that didn’t make sense to people was that the car Liebeck was in wasn’t even moving. The car was parked, and she still happened to spill it on herself. Secondly, it wasn’t an employee of McDonald’s who caused the incident. She had the cup in between her knees and opened the lid herself to add milk and sugar. It made the whole ordeal seem a little fishy!

Lastly, it’s coffee — it’s supposed to be hot. Many people were wondering how she got millions of dollars in a lawsuit when this seems like a thing that naturally happens to us all. How many times have you spilled coffee on your desk at work, or had it on the hood of your car and driven away?

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Did Stella Hit the Jackpot? Final Thoughts

Well, it was not necessarily planned, right? Stella was an elderly woman who had a spill. She was doing what we all do when you finally get your cup of joe and need to add as much milk and sugar as necessary. Maybe she fumbled while looking for the sugar, or maybe she just knocked it over.

Becoming a millionaire is always a good thing, but she did have to go through a painful experience. Stella was in the hospital with third-degree burns and needed surgery. Hospital bills in the US are expensive, too. Maybe this wouldn’t have been such a big case if McDonald’s just paid for her medical bills.

We don’t necessarily know for sure. Some are on her side, and some see it as an easy win. The evidence proved her case in court, and it was settled so we may just all need to move on at this point.

Featured Image Credit: Erik Mclean, Unsplash


Ollie Jones

Oliver (Ollie) Jones is a zoologist and freelance writer living in South Australia. Originally from the US, he thought he loved coffee before his big move down under, but his discovery of the flat white and the cafe on every corner has taken his coffee passion to a whole new level. He's so excited to share his knowledge and experience with readers worldwide (and keep testing coffee drinks while he's at it).

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