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The Most Popular Personal Injury Law Story of all Time

By Sheila R. Byron Subscribe to RSS | July 22nd 2012 | Views:

Can you guess what the most famous accidental injuries account in recent history is? In case you don’t know, what cave or rock were you hiding under? But seriously, the case was famous it created milestone variations to the approach we take to treat coffees purchased from cafes and shops, not forgetting personal injuries as a whole.

Slipped your mind at the moment? It’s the coffee case brought against McDonald’s by a grandmother from Albuquerque and in actual fact won the case. Called Hot Coffee, which was made into a documentary in 2011 and broadcasted on HBO, it’s the reason you are able to see so many cautions on the coffee plastic cover about how very hot it is.


In February 1992 Stella Liebeck bought coffee from a McDonald’s drive-through. Together with her grandson who was driving the car, they parked so she could place cream and sugar into her coffee. Putting the cup between her knees, she was pulling the lid when the coffee spilled all over her lower limbs.

She was rushed to the hospital suffering from third degree burns. She was confined inside the hospital for 8 days and underwent skin grafting and two years of health-related follow-up ensued.

She asked for a settlement from the fast-food company to make up for the medical bills which amounted to $10,500 but was only offered $800. Liebeck then hired the Texan lawyer Reed Morgan who filed a suit against McDonald’s for gross negligence, mentioning that the coffee was “unreasonably dangerous” and “defectively manufactured”.

When McDonald’s declined to settle with $9,000, the case went to court. Among the best parts of the case was how the McDonald’s coffee, at 82 degrees Celsius, more than most commercially made coffees, has the ability to result in third degree burns. It was also found out that more than 700 McDonald’s customers ended up being burnt by this coffee.

The restaurant’s quality control manager argued that any food that’s hotter than 54 degrees C has the capacity to burn. This brought Liebeck’s team to debate that it was an affirmation that their coffee can burn the mouth and throat when sipped instantly.

The jury declared that McDonald’s was 80% liable with Liebeck 20% responsible. The jury found that the warnings on the coffee cups are not enough nor are they clear enough to be seen. They required the fast-food chain to pay Liebeck $160,000 for compensatory damage and 2.7 million dollars for punitive damages.

Public Response

The case, when it came into public lumination, drew a lot of fangs. It was termed by a lot of people as frivolous litigation, which technically is a lawsuit that has no chance of succeeding. ABC News termed the case as “the poster child of excessive lawsuits.” The case was called representational of America’s obsession with suing anything worth suing.

Others, however, claimed it was a “meaningful and worthy lawsuit”. A lot of people sympathized with Liebeck and what she had to go through with the burns she developed. Following the incident, her life has never been the same.


Main coffee vendors were similarly affected by the case, as third degree burn law suits were filed against them. So much myths and misconceptions encased the incident particularly that Liebeck was driving.

But the most significant change of all was it made food establishments more cautious of their actions. Whether you agree with the end result of the case or otherwise, there’s no doubt this is actually the most widely used case of contemporary history.

Sheila R. Byron - About Author:
Personal Injury Attorney Mesa AZ from Johnson Law Group serves the Arizona state with the Best Personal Injury Lawyer Mesa AZ and Medical Malpractice law.

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