New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Michael G. Rosenberg Wrongful death, DWI, and Motor Vehicle Accident Attorneys
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in the McDonald's Coffee Case

Perhaps more than any other, the McDonald's coffee burn case has been twisted and misinterpreted by the insurance industry and other business and political interests in order to misinform and prejudice the public against those who have been negligently injured or wrongfully killed by others. This has been a largely successful campaign to deprive the victims of other's wrongful acts, carelessness and negligence of their just and rightful compensation.

I have particular personal knowledge about the McDonald's coffee burn case. It was tried in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I have been practicing law helping injured people for 40 years. I took the Bar Exam with the trial judge who is now a federal magistrate. I talked to the judge during a break in the trial and he told me what was happening and why he thought the jury was so angry with McDonald's. I was personal friends with one of the injured person's attorneys. We played on the same football team together, we bicycled together and his daughter and one of my daughters went to the same school. I know the defense firm that handled the case for McDonald's and played on the same soft ball team as the lead defense counsel. I have tried cases against him.

Now what do you think happened in the McDonald's coffee burn case?

Think about it for a moment and think about where you got your information about the McDonald's case. Like most of the public, you have been grossly misinformed about this tragic coffee burn case. If you want to know what you have not been told and what really happened in the McDonald's coffee burn case, read the article below by the lead counsel for the victim, reprinted from the Albuquerque Journal.

Liebeck Attorney Gives Side of Hot-Coffee Case
     By S. Reed Morgan

I am the trial lawyer who tried Stella Liebeck's case.

There has been a great amount of uproar from those persons displeased at the size of the verdict, who have heralded this verdict as an example of a runaway jury and individuals who will not accept responsibility for their own actions.

This cannot be true since McDonald's witnesses admitted that nobody knows or expects that spilled coffee will cause the severe type of burns that McDonald's coffee causes as a result of its being sold at a temperature of 180 to 190 degrees.

Stella Liebeck; at age 79, purchased a cup of McDonald's and stopped the car, and Mrs. Liebeck attempted to hold the cup securely between her knees while she removed the plastic lid.

It was at this time that it tipped over, causing third-degree burns.

The jury is the voice of the community. It awarded $200,000 to her for compensatory damages, reduced by $20,000 for her negligence, and $2.7 million in punishment for punitive damages.

The Court of Appeals can set it aside if it's wrong.

It cost more than $50,000 to prosecute this case in costs alone, not including legal fees. If the jury had not stopped them, who would do it? How long would this have gone on?

Further, the system has numerous safeguards to overturn any verdict, including this one, if it is, in fact, excessive, not the least of which is an appeal.

To set the record straight, the following information was presented to an impartial jury of six men and six women for six days, which resulted in a finding that the product is unreasonably dangerous, and it is sold in breach of the implied warranty of fitness imposed by the Uniform Commercial Code. It is not fit for consumption.

Obviously, the jury found that McDonald's coffee has caused enough human misery and suffering, and no one should be made to suffer for being exposed to the sale of excessively hot coffee at McDonald's and other establishments.

You will be shocked and amazed to learn what was proved at trial:

  • McDonald's Corporation sells its coffee at 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit by corporate specification.
  • McDonald's coffee, if spilled, causes full-thickness burns (third degree to the muscle/fatty tissue layer) in two to seven seconds.
  • Third-degree burns do not heal without skin grafting, debridement, and whirlpool treatments, which give rise to medical expenses in the tens of thousands of dollars and result in permanent disfigurement, extreme pain and disability to the victim for many months, and in some cases years.
  • McDonald's Corp. has known about this unacceptable risk for more than 10 years, and it was brought to its attention through other lawsuits, repeatedly, to no avail. (More than 700 reported claims from 1982-1992). McDonald's produced a witness who said this number of burned people was statistically "trivial".
  • Their own corporate witnesses admitted in court that the consumers are unaware of this risk of serious burns and that McDonald's Corporation is and has been aware of this risk.
  • McDonald's Corp. testified, through its witnesses, that it did not intend to turn down the heat.
  • McDonald's Corp. admitted that it did not warn of the nature and extent of this risk of harm and could offer no explanation as to why it did not.
  • McDonald's Corp. admitted its coffee is "not fit for consumption" when sold because it will cause severe scalds if spilled or drunk.
  • McDonald's Corp. has burned more than 700 people over the past 10 years, many with severe burns to the genital area, perineum, inner thighs and buttocks.
  • Mrs. Liebeck's treating physician testified that this was one of the worst scald burns he had ever seen and that this risk of harm was unacceptable.
  • The chairman of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Bio-Mechanical Engineering at the University of Texas testified that this risk of harm is unacceptable, as did the most widely publicized burn doctor in the United States, who is and has been the editor in chief of the Burn and Rehabilitation Journal, the most widely-recognized burn journal in the world.
  • McDonald's Corp. generates revenues in excess of $1.3 million daily from the sale of coffee, selling 1 billion cups of coffee a year.
  • McDonald's Corp. has burned not only men and women but children and infants with its scalding hot coffee, in some instances due to inadvertent spillage by its own employees.
  • At least one individual had scalding hot coffee dropped in her lap through the service window, resulting in third-degree burns to her inner thighs and other sensitive areas of the body resulting in disability for years.

I have recently been contacted by the heirs of a lady that went into diabetic shock and died as the result of being burned at McDonald's.

In short, the consumer may be guilty of one second of momentary inadvertence or a mistake resulting in horrible, excruciatingly painful, disfiguring, expensive and life-threatening injuries.

Compare the behavior of McDonald's, a family restaurant that caters to children, which was unequivocally shown to have known of and ignored this risk for more than 10 years, whose quality-control manager testified that he knows the consumer is unaware of the risk and knows the consumer does not anticipate that it will cause these very serious burns.

The consumer does not know that coffee this hot causes these injuries. Nor do they know it's served this hot.

We had to teach McDonald's that for every degree above 140 degrees Fahrenheit, our skin burns twice as fast. At 180 degrees Fahrenheit, there is no escape from these types of burns. The product is, by definition, defective or unreasonably dangerous. This is the applicable law. They broke the law.

Why had they not studied this risk? They have laboratories and a university devoted to the study of selling food and drinks. They had a legal duty to sell safe products, not products with a hidden risk.

McDonald's testified through management that it had no intention of lowering the temperature:
           "No, there is no current plan to change the procedure that we're
             using in that regard right now."
This is callous indifference to the welfare of its consumers.

The jury applied the law of punitive damages to deter McDonald's and other similarly situated corporations from exposing consumers to this risk by imposing a penalty of two days worth of coffee sales, or $2.7 million, for willfully ignoring the safety of children, women and men that feed the McDonald's money tree.

So, the issue is why should we tolerate this kind of irresponsibility?

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 risk of serious burns above 130 degrees has been well documented by the Shriners Burn Center which has published warnings to the franchise food industry that it is unnecessarily causing serious scald burns.

McDonald's admitted it never, in all these years, consulted a single burn doctor or thermo-dynamics. Our firm did, and presented this to the jury in Albuquerque, which in turn did what is necessary to remedy the problem.

Interestingly the news media, the day after the verdict, documented that coffee at McDonald's in Albuquerque is now sold at 158 degrees. Mission accomplished.

This will cause third-degree burns in about 60 seconds, rather than in two to seven seconds. The margin of safety has been increased as a direct consequence of this verdict.




Wrongful death, DWI, and Motor Vehicle Accident Attorneys



Michael G. Rosenberg
Attorney at Law


.Licensed in Colorado and New Mexico