Re-living the Infamous Hot Coffee Case - Arguably Not a Frivolous Case

A lot of people remember the "Hot Coffee" case where McDonald's got sued from an elderly lady spilling hot coffee on her legs. A recent documentary that aired on HBO last month, has brought this case into the limelight once again. People were shocked at the enormous amount of money the jury awarded to the plaintiff, but what people do not realize is how and why the jury got to this 2.9 million dollar conclusion. Although the plaintiff sustained what some would call a minor injury as she only had burns on her legs, and she basically caused her own injury after placing the coffee in-between her legs, she actually had severe burns that required her to be hospitalized and have several skin grafts. She was also not even driving, but was in the passenger seat of a parked vehicle.

There are other facts of this case to which the majority of the public are not aware. First, the coffee was not just hot, it was so blistering hot that it would have destroyed anything it spilled on. She suffered third degree burns over six percent of her body and stayed in the hospital for eight days. Initially, she offered to settle the case with McDonald's for only $20,000, and of course they refused. It also seems that McDonald's knew about the harm their coffee caused as evidenced by the 700 claims filed between 1982-1992, some even complaining of third degree burns. McDonald's admitted during discovery that their coffee is made to be between 180-190 degrees Fahrenheit, and their quality assurance manager testified that there are burn hazards with any food served over 140 degrees Fahrenheit. "Plaintiffs' expert, a scholar in thermodynamics applied to human skin burns, testified that liquids, at 180 degrees, will cause a full thickness burn to human skin in two to seven seconds." Lastly, the punitive damages that the jury awarded the plaintiff of 2.7 million dollars, was just two days worth of coffee sales at McDonald's. The trial court substantially lowered the jury's total award, but the parties eventually ended up settling in secret and no one will ever know how much spilling hot coffee on your legs is really worth.

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