Hot Coffee Once Again Lands McDonald’s in Hot WaterBy: Josh Wolford - January 10, 2014
Nearly 20 years after Stella Liebeck won compensatory and punitive damages from McDonald’s after spilling hot coffee in her lap and sustaining serious injury, another woman is suing the fast food giant over a similar injury.
Los Angeles resident Paulette Carr has filed a suit against McDonald’s after she spilled hot coffee on herself at a drive-thru on January 12th, 2012. According to the LA Times, Carr claims that the lid was improperly affixed to the cup, and that’s what caused her to be injured by the spilled coffee.
“The lid for the hot coffee was negligently, carelessly and improperly placed on the coffee cup…resulting in the lid coming off the top of the coffee at the window, causing the hot coffee to spill onto the plaintiff,” reads the lawsuit.
As you probably know, there is precedent for winning damages for spilling hot coffee on yourself. In 1994, an Albuquerque, New Mexico woman named Stella Liebeck was awarded $160,000 in compensatory damages and $2.7 million in punitive damages (later reduced to $640,000) when she successfully sued McDonald’s for serving her super-heated coffee in 1992.
The case, one of the most famous civil cases in recent history, sparked debates about tort reform and quickly became a pop culture phenomenon. Many at the time held the case up as the epitome of the country’s “sue anyone for anything” culture – but as time passed and the full story came into focus people began to change their minds about Liebeck and the validity of her suit.
Liebeck suffered third-degree burns on her inner thighs from the spill and was forced to spend 8 days in the hospital where she underwent skin grafts. Her rehabilitation lasted for years after that. Liebeck and her representation claimed that the coffee must have been super-heated to an unsafe temperature (likely 180+ degrees F) to cause such injuries.
A 2011 HBO documentary on Liebeck’s case helped make believers out of a lot of skeptics:
Obviously, the two cases share a similar thread but appear, at least on first glance, to accuse McDonald’s of a different style of negligence. While Liebeck argued that the coffee was simply too hot, Carr seems to suggest that the vessel wasn’t properly sealed – and that’s what resulted in her injuries.
Injuries – the severity of which have yet to be revealed.
Image via Thiago Martins, Flickr