McDonald's and Hot Coffee

 
Old 06-06-02, 09:28 AM
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McDonald's and Hot Coffee

This is for you sfsdfd; I know everytime this subject comes up you always have to correct people's ideas about this case.

Anyway, I was curious and did some research about this "famous" case (which has no published opinions). Here are a few facts:

The woman had 3rd degree burns on a significant part of her body. Do you think spilled coffee should give you third degree burns?

Evidence showed that McDonald's kept their coffee about 20 degrees hotter than other restaurants, (which is *more* than 20 degrees hotter than your average home coffeee maker). Furthermore, risk of serious burns goes up dramatically as the temperature goes up. They knew this because they had been subject to similiar suits before (see below).

The woman, a lifelong Republican, tried, unsuccessfully, for almost 2 years to settle with McDonald's for a paltry sum. In fact, she didn't want a lawyer and had never sued anyone in her 79 years. She just wanted medical expenses, nothing else. She hired the lawyer only after McDonald's offered $800 with nary an apology or assurance that they would lower the temp (medical expenses were over *$20k*, and she spent 7 days in the hospital and had to undergo some very painful skin grafts).

The most damning part was that McDonald's had fielded over 700 complaints about coffee being too hot prior to this woman's injury. In fact, they had already been subject to similar suits that they had settled (why they wouldn't settle this one is beyond me). They knew of the medical risks, knew that people had been harmed, yet chose to do nothing.

When you read some of the real stuff about this case, it seems as legit as many others. But, unfortunately, it was latched onto as the poster child for the lack of personal responsibility in our society, and the liberal media misportrayed the facts to feed into that.
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Old 06-06-02, 09:31 AM
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So did she win the lawsuit...and how much was she awarded?
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Old 06-06-02, 09:34 AM
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Originally posted by Porno Star
So did she win the lawsuit...and how much was she awarded?
Oh, sorry, I assumed it was common knowledge. Guess I shouldn't assume. She was awarded almos $3million, which is got everybody pissed off. Most of it was punitive damages, as the jury was trying to penalize McD's for their wilfull disregard for the danger.

The trial judge reduced the award to $480k, and they settled for about $600k.
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Old 06-06-02, 09:37 AM
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The bottom line is this: the woman spilled the coffee due to her own negligence (she was riding around in a car with the cup between her legs...come on!) How is that McDonald's fault? Had she been more careful, this never would have happened.

I bet the 700 complaints they received about the "too hot" coffee would dwarf the number of complaints they would received if it was 20 degrees cooler. I also wouldn't be surprised if the burned woman was one of the one's complaining. If my coffee is too hot, I can wait for it to cool. If it's too cold, there's nothing I can do unless I have a microwave handy.

Last edited by Groucho; 06-06-02 at 10:08 AM.
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Old 06-06-02, 09:51 AM
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that is amazing
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Old 06-06-02, 09:53 AM
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Old 06-06-02, 09:53 AM
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Actually, she was a passenger, not the driver. Another common misconception about this.
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Old 06-06-02, 09:54 AM
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So out of the millions of people who drink Mcdonald's coffee, 700 felt that it was too hot. Big deal. I don't know about these 700 people, but when I sip the coffee and it's too hot, I let it cool down a bit; I don't just jump in and burn myself. I don't see a danger here; the woman should have been more careful.
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Old 06-06-02, 09:56 AM
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Originally posted by beavismom
Actually, she was a passenger, not the driver. Another common misconception about this.
So why didn't she sue the driver?
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Old 06-06-02, 10:03 AM
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Re: McDonald's and Hot Coffee

Originally posted by LurkerDan
The most damning part was that McDonald's had fielded over 700 complaints about coffee being too hot prior to this woman's injury. In fact, they had already been subject to similar suits that they had settled (why they wouldn't settle this one is beyond me). They knew of the medical risks, knew that people had been harmed, yet chose to do nothing.
McDonald's was negligent because using the Hand Rule:

If C < p x D, then it is negligence

C = cost of preventing the harm
p = probability of harm occuring
D = amount of damage if harm occurs

McDonald's realized this, but they were (according to their internal research) going to make MILLIONS more by making the coffee hotter. So they were willing to take the risk of causing more harm so they can make money. This is what really pissed off the jury.
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Old 06-06-02, 10:07 AM
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Originally posted by huzefa


So why didn't she sue the driver?
Because the driver wasn't negligent. I am as much against frivolous lawsuits as the next person, but I think McDonalds was wrong here. If I remember correctly, McDonalds had been told to turn down the temperature on their coffee, but hadn't done it. Not only that, I think the lid didn't fit properly or something to that effect.
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Old 06-06-02, 10:10 AM
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I agree with Groucho. I don't care if she never sued anyone before in her life, or if McDonalds served their coffee 20 degrees hotter than they were supposed to. When you purchase a coffee you expect it to be piping hot, and you expect that if you spill it on yourself that you will get burned. So you be careful. If your not careful - then its your fault.

If the coffee was so hot that it ate through the cup or something then I would see how McDonalds would be at fault.. but in this case I see someone who did something stupid and just simply blamed someone else. Sort of the trend these days...

Last edited by General Zod; 06-06-02 at 10:19 AM.
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Old 06-06-02, 10:14 AM
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Originally posted by beavismom


Because the driver wasn't negligent. I am as much against frivolous lawsuits as the next person, but I think McDonalds was wrong here. If I remember correctly, McDonalds had been told to turn down the temperature on their coffee, but hadn't done it. Not only that, I think the lid didn't fit properly or something to that effect.
If the driver wasn't negligent (and didn't brake too hard or something), then we're back to the woman. She held it between her legs, no? Could she have possibly squeezed her legs together too much causing the lid to fall off and the coffee to burn herself?
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Old 06-06-02, 10:14 AM
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I accept the negligently/wilfully over-heating point - and recollect that some blame attached to the woman concerned and reduced the award because of the stupid way she placed the hot drink in a moving vehicle - however....

.... perhaps they should just stop selling hot drinks to "take out" customers: I really dislike being served tepid drinks way below the temperature of those that I make for myself. In a restaurant I can make a drink cooler either by time, blowing or adding more milk but I cannot make it hotter
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Old 06-06-02, 10:17 AM
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Originally posted by benedict

.... perhaps they should just stop selling hot drinks to "take out" customers: I really dislike being served tepid drinks way below the temperature of those that I make for myself. In a restaurant I can make a drink cooler either by time, blowing or adding more milk but I cannot make it hotter
Because of a few people they should change the way people drink their beverages? Nobody's gonna buy room-temperature coffee from McDonald's; that makes no sense.
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Old 06-06-02, 10:26 AM
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Do you realize how hot something has to be to cause 3rd degree burns? I understand that people like to have their beverages hot, but that is an unreasonable temperature. Let me give you an idea how hot that had to be...

When I was about 10 I was getting ready to eat a chicken pot pie and not paying attention to what I was doing. I dumped said chicken pot pie into the bowl but missed and hit my lap instead. The oven hot, sludgelike gravy instantly molded to my inner thighs. I won't go into any more detail, but this only caused 2nd degree burns, so in my mind that coffee was way too hot.

edited to add- no we didn't sue.
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Old 06-06-02, 10:26 AM
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huzefa, I am served with tepid beverages at various eateries.

I suspect that this is because of lawsuits such as the one being discussed as I don't recall this always having been the case.

I, too, think it is ridiculous that my drink is served below my preferred temperature and so my (only half-serious) suggestion that they stop selling "hot" drinks to "mobile" customers was made in that spirit.

(Of course we still have to contend with all the klutzes who will spill their drinks over themselves while seated at a restaurant and seek to blame someone else for their carelessness).
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Old 06-06-02, 10:31 AM
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She never denied being responsible. SHe admitted as such to McD's long before suing. She didn't sue the driver of the car because he had nothing to do with the injury (I don't even think they were moving at the time).

BTW, the jury did find her 20% negligent, and the award was reduced accordingly. They did decide that she was partly at fault for spilling the coffee.

Huzefa and Grouch and others: It's not just that their coffee was too hot. If you are always given coffee that is 140 degrees, you have a *reasonable expectation* that coffee is always around that temperature, and that if spilled on you it will burn you. If you are then given coffee that is 165 degrees, and the burns that one would receive from spilling THAT coffee are exponentially more severe, that is a valid claim. She didn't just get burned. She admitted that that would be expected. She got very severe and extensive 3rd degree burns, that required a week of hospitalization! Do you seriously believe that the coffee that you drink every day would do that to you if you spilled it? I expect my coffee to be piping hot

The 700 complaints weren't just "ooh your coffee's too hot", it was "hey, your coffee is dangerously hot, and people are getting seriously injured out there". As I noted, there had even been similar lawsuits where the danger was acknowledged, yet McD's chose to do nothing.

Look at it this way. Let's say you buy a gun. Guns can kill, and loaded guns almost inherently pose some danger to those around them. Lets say your gun is loaded, and when you shoot it the bullet goes 30 degrees off target, hitting your friend (who should not have been standing there anyways). You determine that the gun is defective because it fires in the worng direction, and you discover the manufacturer has fielded numerous complaints and suits to this effect, yet has done nothing despite the fact that people are being injured. It's a gun, it shoots bullets, and when you shoot a loaded gun you expect that people in front of the gun will get hit? But your friend, although he shouldn't have been standing where he was, had a reasonable expectation that a gun pointed 30 degrees away would not hit him regardless of whether he should have been standing there. And furthermore, when it becomes apparent that the manufacturer had repeated warnings about the defect, and did nothing, I'd say they should pay...

That is exactly analogous to this, and BTW, if you haven't figured it out, her claim wasn't negligence, it was a products liability suit...
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Old 06-06-02, 10:35 AM
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Originally posted by benedict
I really dislike being served tepid drinks way below the temperature of those that I make for myself. In a restaurant I can make a drink cooler either by time, blowing or adding more milk but I cannot make it hotter
She was served a drink that was more than 20 degrees hotter than that served by other restaurants (and remember, this was pre-this lawsuit, so the coffee at those other places wasn't likely lukewarm because of fear of liability). Also, the coffee she was served was over 20 degrees hotter than the typical home coffee maker. 140 degree liquid is not tepid or lukewarm (typical coffee), yet she was served liquid kept at 180 degrees...
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Old 06-06-02, 10:36 AM
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Originally posted by LurkerDan
BTW, the jury did find her 20% negligent, and the award was reduced accordingly. They did decide that she was partly at fault for spilling the coffee.
Who was 80% negligent and also at fault for spilling the coffee? I'm just wondering..

Also, the coffee wasn't "defective" - it was just too hot. In the example you gave you fired the gun and used it properly, and didn't do some bonehead thing with it that caused the problem. This lady did a bonehead thing - she spilled it all over herself!. The cup wasn't defective.. I don't think the analogy was good at all.
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Old 06-06-02, 10:36 AM
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Originally posted by LurkerDan
BTW, the jury did find her 20% negligent, and the award was reduced accordingly. They did decide that she was partly at fault for spilling the coffee.


That was the part I never knew about this case since I didn't know what state she sued in. I figured that there was no way that she could be suing in a contributory negligence state (such as MD - where I am licensed) because I assumed that a court would find her at least partially responsible. I was also curious to know what % of fault was attributed to her under comparative negligence. I probably would have guessed 1/4 to 1/3.
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Old 06-06-02, 10:36 AM
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I'm a firm believer that if you hold a cup of anything between your legs, you deserve to have it in your lap. Hot beverages, cold beverages, caustic/acidic beverages, you take your chances.
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Old 06-06-02, 10:37 AM
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Originally posted by beavismom
Do you realize how hot something has to be to cause 3rd degree burns? I understand that people like to have their beverages hot, but that is an unreasonable temperature.
No they obviously don't realize , but that's the evidence that was presented at trial...

BTW, most of the jurors admitted that they were very skeptical of her claims going into the trial, but were convinced by the evidence. Also, a judge who served as a mediator at a pre-trial settlement conference advised McD's to settle for $225k, so it's not as if it was a frivolous claim...

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Old 06-06-02, 10:39 AM
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Originally posted by LurkerDan
BTW, the jury did find her 20% negligent, and the award was reduced accordingly. They did decide that she was partly at fault for spilling the coffee.
I agree that McDonald's was partially responsible...the coffee was in fact too hot. However the jury decided the wrong way...they should have only received 20% responsibility and the woman 80%. None of this would have happened if she hadn't behaved like a total dumbass. What is this country coming too when you are rewarded for your own stupidity?
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Old 06-06-02, 10:39 AM
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Originally posted by LurkerDan

That is exactly analogous to this, and BTW, if you haven't figured it out, her claim wasn't negligence, it was a products liability suit...

...and that definitely makes a huge difference in assigning blame to a defendant.
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