The McDonalds Coffee Cup Case

Are there too many lawsuits in the US? Are there too many plaintiffs who are just trying to game the system and hit the judicial jackpot? Are there too many frivolous lawsuits like the McDonald’s coffee cup lady weighing down the economy?

If you’re like most people, you probably answered yes. But as usual, the truth is not so simple.

For those of you who are interested in getting past the tort reform hype and learning the cold, hard facts about the infamous McDonalds coffee cup case, read "The MCDONALDS Coffee Cup Case— Separating The McFACTS From The McFICTION" . Did you know the following "McFacts"?:

  1. The infamous McDonalds coffee which the coffee cup lady (Stella Liebeck) bought was 180-190 degrees Fahrenheit (82-88 degrees Celsius). Water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius) at standard atmospheric pressure. 185 degree liquid can cause third degree full-thickness burns in 2 to 7 seconds.
  2. Before the coffee cup lady got burned, 700 other McDonalds customer who were burned by McDonalds coffee had brought claims against the restaurant during the preceding 10 years.
  3. When the coffee cup lady spilled her McDonalds coffee into her lap, the car was parked and she was in the passenger, not driver, seat. She was NOT trying to drive and drink coffee at the same time.
  4. The coffee cup lady suffered third degree burns from her McDonalds spilled coffee to her groin, thighs, genitalia and buttocks. She had to spend 7 days in the hospital, 3 weeks at home, skin grafts and at one point, her life was thought to be in jeopardy.
  5. After judgment, the judge reduced the jury’s punitive award from $2.7 mil. to $640k.
  6. The coffee cup lady had initially asked McDonalds to pay $2k for medical bills plus her daughter’s lost wages. McDonalds played hardball and refused to offer more than $800.

As S. Reed Morgan, the lawyer who represented the coffee cup lady, says: "Is this an individual who didn’t take responsibility, or a corporation that didn’t take responsibility? The jury found 20 percent against Mrs. Liebeck and 80 percent against McDonald’s."

The McDonalds coffee cup case was no runaway verdict but, somehow, it was turned by the media into the poster child for greedy plaintiffs who refuse to take personal responsibility and frivolous litigation. Meanwhile, plaintiffs’ lawyers to this day are finding they have to defuse the hype and lies that have grown around this infamous coffee cup case during the initial jury panel interview phase of trial (otherwise known as "voir dire"). It’s an unfortunate legacy that threatens to continue poisoning jurors’ minds indefinitely.


  1. Eugene Lee on October 22, 2008 at 1:01 am


    You are entirely correct, mea culpa. I’ve made the clarification you suggest. Thanks for pointing out my error.



  2. Jeanne on October 21, 2008 at 10:31 pm

    Water starts to boil at 186°F in high altitudes, and 212°F at sea level. I’m unsure if this incident took place overseas, in the great lands of celsius measurement; But for the sake of accuracy, a simple clarification might make your article more credible.

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