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.
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
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
- 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
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
- 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
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
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:
there is no current plan to change the procedure that we're
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
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.
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.