In re: McDonald’s Lawsuit: Fact & Fiction

In Civil Procedure II today we had a guest speaker talking about jury selection and voir dire. His talk was great, but one thing struck me particularly and it was when he mentioned Tort reform and the case that comes to mind with frivolous lawsuits – the McDonald's coffee spill suit. Of course I remember hearing about the case, most people do I feel, and most people I think-myself included, remember that it was someone spilling coffee on themselves in their car — clearly their fault. Well our guest speaker explained how he discusses it in court when getting jurors to realize that it might not have been so frivolous (remember 12 jurors sat on the case).

My mind on the case and most peoples minds may change a bit when they learn about the case, and that McDonald's had been serving their coffee at 180 degrees, whereas most other fast foods chains wouldn't serve at above 140. The result of this decision was hundreds of burn settlements, to such an extent that McDonald's had a department setup to deal exclusively with their burn problems. However, that never led them to change their temperature, on which is so hot that it caused 3rd degree burns in 2-7 seconds. Just as car manufactures did (read Unsafe at Any Speed) they did the cost calculation of changing and the cost of paying burn victims, and decided to keep the temperature.

While that still might not change your mind, it might at least give you a few more facts on the case, not to mention that the lady who was spilled on had $20,000 in medical fees for her 3rd degree burns. Anyway, there are several sites (see here) I found that have the facts of the case.
Also see a Washington Post article from 1994 (via a firms website here) that covers the case.

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