Posted by Paul Kikta.
The lawsuit that I decided to evaluate was Liebeck vs. McDonalds. Liebeck vs. McDonalds is a 1994 product liability lawsuit about the hot coffee McDonalds sold. On February 27, 1992, Stella Liebeck, a 79-year old woman from Albuquerque, New Mexico accidently spilled coffee on herself. This coffee was dangerously hot to the point where it caused her third degree burns through her clothes in seconds. She endured burns that covered six percent of her body. Because of this, she recovered for two years after being hospitalized for eight days.
This arrived to higher-level court through a lack of a compromise. At first, Mrs. Liebeck wanted $20,000 to settle the case, but McDonalds refused and countered with $800. That money is not enough for Mrs. Liebeck because it does not cover her medical expenses. When it went to court, the jurors saw her third degree burns, facts that McDonalds served their coffee 30 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the industry average, and other testimonies that McDonalds’ coffee have burned hundreds of adults and children. Liebeck’s lawyer, Kenneth Wagner, claimed McDonalds’ coffee way too hot in comparison to other competitors. The average temperature of coffee served is between 135 and 140; however, McDonalds was at 190, which means that burns happen at a significantly faster rate. The plaintiff also learned that “McDonalds had faced over 700 claims by people who had suffered burns from the coffee from 1982-1992. Some of these claims involved full-thickness burns similar to those suffered by Ms. Liebeck” (Welman). After admitting a claim such as that, it looked very good for Mrs. Liebeck to achieve victory.
In her case victory, the jury granted 2.7 million dollars for spilling coffee on herself. After the case ended, many authors published articles about her victory, agreeing or disagreeing with its result. To me, it does not seem fair that she won that much money unless her hospitalization bills and recovery costed that much. She just became a millionaire because of an action that she could have avoided if she paid attention. I think that the lawsuit also took into account for the hundreds of other cases with coffee burns- the lawsuit punished McDonalds to lower their coffee temperate and Mrs. Liebeck was the fortunate one on the other end. Due to many political and public statements on the case, “Ms. Liebeck … entered into a settlement with McDonalds … which the parties agreed would remain secret, has never been revealed to the public despite the fact that the case received extensive public reporting” (Welman). The result of a very controversial case that the public pressured showed that it helps to create more fairs results of the case. Everyone agreed that Liebeck should win but not to the extend she got.
Paul is an economics/ mathematical finance major at the Stillman School of Business, Seton Hall University, Class of 2020.