When the Coffee is Too Hot, Critical Injuries Can Occur

Most people have heard about the 1992 “hot coffee” case, when McDonald’s was sued for a woman’s injuries after she was burned with their scalding coffee. Although the award was nearly $2.7 million in punitive damages, the amount was lowered to $480,000, and the true final settlement was never publicly revealed.

Are injuries caused by hot coffee really that bad, and is it still happening today?

The Original “Hot Coffee” Case

In 1992, Stella Liebeck ordered a McDonald’s coffee, which she subsequently set in her lap to remove the lid. The entire coffee spilled onto her lap, and her pants held the hot liquid there. Had this happened at home, she might have suffered some redness and discomfort, since typical home brewed coffee sits at about 135-140 degrees. However, McDonald’s stores their coffee at about 180-190 degrees — enough to cause 3rd degree burns in just seconds, which is exactly what happened to Liebeck. Liebeck required an eight-day hospitalization, as well as multiple debridement and skin graft procedures.

Many people disagree that a simple spill of hot coffee does not require a multi-million dollar settlement; however, the media often fails to report the nature and severity of Liebeck’s injuries. It also deserves to be noted that Liebeck originally wanted to settle for just $20,000, and McDonald’s refused.

Is It Still Happening?

Warnings about their coffee being extremely hot were put on all of McDonald’s coffee cups. Although it seems that the steep punitive damages did not deter the fast food giant from serving coffee at dangerously high temperatures. In 2013, Clovis, California resident Joan Fino was burned in a similar way as Liebeck — she set the hot coffee in her lap and the coffee spilled, resulting in serious injuries to her groin area. It was determined that after the Liebeck lawsuit, McDonald’s only reduced their coffee temperature by about 10 degrees.


Fino’s attorney, Nicolas Wager, seems to have the answer. He tells the Huffington Post that: “They are saving more in production costs in brewing coffee and serving at such high temperature than it costs them to settle the cases with these people who have been injured.”

When an entity continues to knowingly serve dangerous products, simply because it is cheaper to do so and deal with the repercussions than it is to change the way their products are served, multi-million dollar settlements don’t seem so frivolous.

Were You Injured by a Defective or Dangerous Product? Talk to a Lawyer Today

Injuries from dangerous or defective products happen every day. If you or a loved one were harmed by such a product, the entity who designed, serves, manufactures, or distributes the product should be held legally responsible for their negligence.

At the Law Offices of Carl L. Brown, we can help you get the compensation you need for your medical expenses and help you put a stop to negligent practices by corporate entities. Call today for a consultation at (559) 431-4400.