Current Event Assignment Outline Introduction Liebeck V. McDonalds Restaurants Or McDonalds coffee case The Background Attempts To Settle The McDonalds Coffee Case Evidences Presented During The Case The Decision The Impact Of The Lawsuit Current Event Assignment Introduction McDonald’s coffee case or Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants is a product liability lawsuit. This lawsuit is one of the most famous in the U.S. history, as it has became a flashpoint in the debates in the U.S. over tort reform after the courts decision to award $2.9 million to Stella Liebeck from Albuquerque, New Mexico, after the 79-year-old woman was severely burned by the coffee she bought from McDonalds in February, 1992. The trial judge reduced the amount payable to $640, and the conflicting parties managed to agree for a confidential amount before the court appeal was decided.
Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants or McDonald’s coffee case The Background The background of the case is as follows. Stella Liebeck (Albuquerque, New Mexico), a 79-year-old woman was in the car (in the passenger seat of her grandsons car) while she ordered a coffee from one of the McDonalds fast food restaurants. In order to make the process of coffee consumption as safe as possible, Liebecks grandson parked the car so to allow his grandmother adding cream and sugar to her coffee. When the 79-year-old woman placed the McDonalds coffee cup between her knees and pulled the far side of the lid toward her in order to remove it, the entire cup of coffee was spilled on Liebecks lap. As the woman was wearing cotton sweatpants, the coffee was immediately absorbed and Stella Liebeck was sitting about 90 seconds in a hot liquid scalding her thighs, buttocks, and groin.
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After the woman was taken to the hospital, the medical checkup took place and thickness burns was confirmed, as a vascular surgeon determined that Stella Liebeck had suffered full thickness (third-degree) burns on 6% of her skin, and over 16% of lesser burns. The woman remained in the hospital for 8 days for skin grafting procedures and debridement treatments. After the incident has occurred, it took about two years in order to complete the treatment and eliminate the consequences of the McDonalds coffee accident. Attempts To Settle The Mcdonald’s Coffee Case At the very beginning Stella Liebeck considered she will not suit McDonalds, in case McDonalds gives her $20,000 for her medical costs coverage (which, however, in fact was about $10,000).
Yet, the compensation offered by the company was only $800. Stella Liebeck applied to Texas attorney Reed Morgan after McDonalds refused to compensate her $20,000. The attorney filed suit in a New Mexico District Court and accused McDonalds of gross negligence, as the company sold coffee that was unreasonably dangerous and defectively manufactured, asking for a compensation of $90,000. McDonalds refused to settle for the amount expected and Reed Morgan requested to settle the affair by the mutual agreement of the parties at cost of $300,000.
The company was also offered to settle for $225,000 before trial, but all pre-trial attempts to settle were also refused by the management. There was an assumption that McDonalds decision to refuse was inspired by numerous lawsuits concerning the defectively manufactured hot coffee, which were dismissed by the court before trial due to the fact that coffee burn is an obvious and open danger. Evidences Presented During The Case During the case, McDonalds has brought as evidence about 700 documentary claims filed by people, who suffered coffee burns between 1982 and 1992. As far as some of these claims involved full thickness burns, similar to Stella Liebecks coffee burns, it documented that McDonalds was aware of the extent and nature of coffee hazard. Apart from that, during the case it was found out that McDonalds policy requires serving coffee at 180-190F (8288 C).
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The coffee, being served at this temperature, may cause a third-degree burn in 2-7 seconds.
Reed Morgan has argued that coffee should be served at a temperature not hotter than 140F (60C) in order to reduce the hazard. The jury was also presented with the evidence that and average cup of coffee served at coffee at 180-190F would inevitably produce third-degree burn in 12-15 seconds, where such treatment like skin grafting will be further required, while the coffee served at the temperature lower than that (160F) will produce the same burn only in 20 seconds, thus prolonging the time the burn may occur and allowing the person to remove the coffee from exposed skin. Christopher Appleton, the quality control manager from McDonalds, claimed that the number of injuries was insufficient to make the company change its practices of coffee serving. As the company asserted, all sorts of food hotter than 130F (54C) imply a burn hazard. In response, Stella Liebecks attorney has asserted that Christopher Appleton confirmed and acknowledged the fact that all McDonalds hot drinks and coffee in particular, would make the person to suffer burns, as it would burn the throat and mouth in case the person consumes coffee immediately when served. McDonalds attempted to refute the argument by claiming that the company serves coffee at such a high temperature, because the consumers, who purchase the coffee from McDonalds, usually want to drive a distance with a coffee, and the initially high temperature will keep the coffee hot during driving time. The case lasted from August 8-17, 1994 until the court has reached the verdict.
The Decision The decision of the jury was based on the principles of comparative negligence, and McDonalds was found guilty and responsible 80% for the coffee burn; however, Stella Liebeck was also found responsible for the incident occurred (20%).
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The jury took into account McDonalds claim that there was a warning sign on a coffee cup, but decided it to be insufficient and not large enough. Stella Liebeck was awarded $200,000 as compensatory damages, and reduced the amount in accordance with the percentage of responsibility involved (to $160,000).
In addition, the woman was awarded $2.7 million in punitive damages. This amount was reached after the suggestion to impose penalty on McDonalds at cost of 1-2 days of the McDonalds coffee revenue, which were approximately $1.35 million/day. The punitive damages were later reduced to $480,000, however, the decision was appealed by both Stella Liebeck and McDonalds in December 1994, but the parties reached an agreement out of the court for an undisclosed amount lesser than $600,000 (Nader 268).
The Impact Of The Lawsuit This lawsuit had impact both on business world and the rules of the law. This case is being taught by professors in law as the example of a product liability lawsuit that has became a flashpoint in the debates in the U.S. over tort reform. What concerns its impact on McDonalds, the company was forced to reexamine its policy. During the trial it was discovered that McDonalds was aware of the risk and hazard, as well as the number of already injured consumers burned by McDonalds coffee, but undertook nothing to mitigate the risk of injury. On contrary, according to McDonalds executives, the company considered to be cheaper to pay compensation benefits and claims versus making changes in their policy. According to the evidence, the company knew about burn hazards and continued to serve coffee hot not to please the consumers, but to save money.
Serving coffee hot allowed McDonalds to get away with a cheaper grade of coffee and cut down on the number of free refills they had to give away (Riba).
McDonald’s coffee case forced the company to reexamine its policy and since then McDonalds serves coffee at a temperature low enough not to cause immediate third-degree burns. Works Cited Nader, R. No Contest: Corporate Lawyers and the Perversion of Justice in America. Random House Inc, 1996. Riba, Lis. McDonalds coffee and the Liebeck lawsuit. 2000.
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