The McDonalds Coffee personal injury story
In February 1992, Stella Liebeck ordered an 8-ounce cup of McDonald’s coffee that spilled and gave her 3rd degree burns on the private areas of her body.
Everyone thinks that Ms. Liebeck ended up a millionaire. Well, that’s not true. She suffered third degree burns, skin grafts and horrible pain. After the appeals by McDonalds and all was said and done, she probably ended up with less than 500,000 dollars for her injuries. Who wants to burn themselves in the groin and then have skin grafts to fix it? I would suggest that McDonalds knew what the cost was to litigate these claims and elected to keep their coffee at an unreasonably hot temperature. McDonalds served its coffee at about 190 degrees which was about 30 degrees hotter than other coffee sellers and they had numerous other burn cases so they knew this was a problem. They paid a small price for the personal injury and suffering endured by Ms. Liebeck who was 79 years old at the time.
The real cost associated with a personal injury trial
Needless to say, the McDonald’s coffee case stands as the example people cling to when they want to make claims about the jury system being out of control. Quite to the contrary, the system is not out of control. Most of the cases that pass through the jury system are motor vehicle collision cases that result in modest verdicts from people who are unaware of what it costs to bring a case to trial. It’s not cheap. To try a case to a jury today can cost the plaintiff 5,000 to 10,000 dollars to bring in the doctors who testify for a fee as they have to be away from their practice, the witnesses who need to be served subpoenas and then the trial court charges 250 dollars a day to have a jury trial. You can bet that trying the McDonald’s coffee case to a jury and the subsequent appeals cost a lot of money. A valiant plaintiff’s lawyer took up that cause since you know that Ms. Liebeck didn’t have the 100,000 dollars to bring that case to trial and then fight McDonalds on appeal.