The Real Story Behind the Case

Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants was a 1994 product liability lawsuit.

Plaintiff Stella Liebeck, a 79-year-old woman suffered third-degree burns when she accidentally spilled hot coffee in her lap after purchasing it from a McDonald’s restaurant. Mrs. Liebeck offered to settle the case for $20,000 to cover her medical expenses and lost income. But McDonald’s never offered more than $800, so the case went to trial.

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Expensive Hot Coffee 

Liebeck filled suit for gross negligence, saying that McDonald’s sold coffee that was defective. The jury found for the claimant. The jury awarded Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages (reduced to $160,000 because the jury found her 20% at fault) and $2.7 million in punitive damages for McDonald’s callous conduct. (To put this in perspective, McDonald’s revenue from coffee sales alone is in excess of $1.3 million a day.) The trial judge reduced the punitive damages to $480,000. In the end both parties settled for a confidential amount. before an appeal was decided. 

 

Tort Law 

The case was said by some in the United States to be an example of frivolous litigation. Tort law is the area of the law that covers most civil suits. The concept of this area of law is to redress a wrong done to a person and provide relief from the wrongful acts of others, usually by awarding monetary damages as compensation. The original intent of tort is to provide full compensation for proved harms.

 

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