The true story about the woman who sued McDonald's over hot coffee



Hooray !

Can we get a t-shirt of this?


Did I just say “YOUR CORPORATE MASTERS DESERVE IMPUNITY!”? Well, gosh, me and my crazy mouth. What I meant was ‘Tort reform!’. Didn’t you here about that time that a woman sued Mcdonalds because they didn’t tell her that hot coffee was hot?


The just-story is too good for the cranks to ignore. No amount of fact checking or corrections will get that piss out of the ocean.


The precise quote from the video:

She was burned over 16% of her body. 6% of the burns were third degree.

It’s actually really hard to get the numbers exactly right on this when you’re trying to sum it up for a news article. The quote from the video sounds like she only had third degree burns on around 1% of her body.


HBO actually did an in-depth 90-minute docu about this very subject 2 years ago that breaks out the hype from the reality in detail:


See also


When UC Davis tested hundreds of coffee drinkers to see what their preferred temperature for consuming coffee was, the average was 168.1°F (75.6°C).


About every six months someone tells me that what I allegedly believe about that case is wrong.

I am still not convinced that punitive damages are a good idea, but of course that woman didn’t make the rules.

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There are photos out there. 16%, 6%, 1%…the burns were in her crotch. Flesh fused together, skin grafts were required…I think her material experience kind of trumps the precise empirical description.


Before a suit was ever filed, Liebeck informed McDonald’s about her
injuries and asked for compensation for her medical bills, which
totaled almost $11,000.[9]McDonald’s countered with a ludicrously low
$800 offer.

Great article, that’s some serious corporate evil there.


It’s no doubt a horrible thing, especially at her age. It’s just so complicated, it’s obvious why hardly anyone can get it right. And then you have to get into the intricacies of the legal fight. And it’s only worth doing that once you already have the massive media attention, so you’ve already lost that battle.

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If a company isn’t fined somehow, why would they stop? If a malicious / negligent action results in profit, you really think most companies will clean up their act?

The problem with most punitive damages is that the amount to hurt a company is often far more than a person should be given. I think there does need to be some reform, with the companies hit harder, but perhaps with the majority of the money going to an appropriate charity.

Heck, in this case, I would argue that the damages weren’t enough. Two days of coffee revenue, BFD. That’s not much more than 1/2%? The margins are probably greater than that.


Actually I think companies should be hit much harder, but I am not so sure that it should be done via damages. Of course people should be free to sue for compensatory damages (including hard to quantify things like pain and suffering) and legal fees, but I think that punishment is better handled via public law, whether criminal or various business regulations.


This is an excellent documentary. In addition to trying to set the record straight on this particular case, it sort of addresses the political implications of tort reform overall and of untrackable money in both political and supposedly non-political elections. I also thought the point they brought up about corporations having various contracts that we sign as consumers and employees that state we can’t take corporations to court (with their example being an employee of Haliburton who was brutally raped by her co-workers and detained against her will in a shipping container afterwards(!!!) and then could not take her employer to court because of her contract for housing her almost exclusively with men and then ignoring her complaints of sexual harassment over a period of months) with a jury trial for “arbitration” instead. They cast it as anti-democratic, which I agree with.

their key point in all of this, is that jury trials are one of the few places where US citizens are on equal footing with giant corporations. If we erode that, where are we.


It always seemed odd to me that punitive damages go to the plaintiff. They should get compensation for whatever is required to make them whole again (to the degree that’s possible) and compensation for the decrease in quality of life they have suffered and will continue to suffer. Which in most case I think would be larger than what they currently get. But punitive damages aren’t designed to make the plaintiff whole, they’re designed to modify behavior.

The problem is, who should get the money then? Whoever gets it would have motive to start altering the system to make sure more damage awards were made regardless of the circumstances. That would be a bad outcome. Perhaps the damages should be turned into cash which is then destroyed. This would still punish the defendants but would spread the money over every single person holding US currency. Even for someone like Bill Gates, the dilution over all issued US currency would be too small to notice, much less motivate a desire to lobby for an increase the punitive damage awards to higher than necessary for behavior modification.


So the moral of the story is to get the facts of the story, rather than to get the initial information, run with it, and coast on the outrage generated by that initial information?


“This is an excellent documentary.”
Agreed. I’m a docu junkie (I’ve run out of anything new to me on Netflix, the Doc Channel and Frontline) and I think the recent Monday Night docs on HBO have been outstanding. Although ones like “The Cheshire Murders” and “Valentine Road” incite rage in me that makes me bolt off the couch in frustration, with no direction to aim my angry energy at the unfair, irrational world I live in. :confused:

Out of curiosity, how cool would coffee need to be so that you wouldn’t risk such scalding if it was spilled in your lap and you couldn’t get the wet clothing away from your skin right away?

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What temperature do they serve tea? Because at home, most people boil water for tea - i.e. make it as hot as liquid water at 1 atm pressure can get, I’m not arguing the facts of the case, just saying “30 degrees hotter than at home!” isn’t much of an argument, since most people know they’re not experts on the brewing temperatures of each beverage, or the effects of specific temperatures of liquid on skin.

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