Coffee Suit: How'd it get into court?

The McD’s coffee story is unbelievable, and I fail to understand why any judge would even allow such a case to be heard in court. Why wasn’t this case thrown out? Didn’t the judge even think about how this would open the flood gates for “trivial pursuits”? :wink:

Any WAGs?

You mean the case where McDonald’s, even though many injuries had been reported previously, still served their coffee way above a temperature that could be considered “normal”, and gave it to them in their cars? And then an old lady bought a cup, placed it between her legs, where it spilled out and caused third-degree burns, requiring hospitalization and skin grafts?

Is this the case you’re asking about?

Because it wasn’t trivial. The woman required skin grafts on her legs.

There’s a difference between “ooh, this coffee is so hot it burns my tongue” and “AAAIIIEEE! THIS COFFEE IS BURNING HOLES THROUGH MY SKIN!”

IIRC, this particular McDonald’s had also received several previous complaints about how insanely hot they served their coffee, and never bothered to do anything about it, or to warn people, “Yeah, sure, normal coffee’s hot, but this is a lot closer to molten lava than to regular coffee. Be careful.”


This is not a sig.

I’ll WAG that this thread is headed to Great Debates.

Livin’ on Tums, vitamin E and Rogaine

third degree burns to the genitals are trivial?

'nuff said.

and the stars o’erhead were dancing heel to toe

No, but the fact that the third-degree burns were caused by someone’s own action of putting a cup of coffee between their legs when driving is an issue that blurs the lines of liability. Who put the coffee there? McDonald’s. Nope.

The action that McDonald’s has taken to avoid lawsuits amounts to this: they have posted a sign at their drive-thru and printed on the cups. It reads something like: "Warning - Coffee is served HOT!!!

Shouldn’t that have been assumed?

Coffee is supposed to be served hot. Some insist that McDonald’s coffee is served hotter than most. I have not noticed a difference between the temperature of the coffee served at McDonald’s and the coffee served anywhere else that serves coffee from an urn. Apparently the person in question was an elderly woman. Years of experience with drinking coffee seems to have not taught her anything about an action such as hers.

If this had happened to me (actually it has, but I was not scalded)I would have blamed myself for putting the coffee between my legs.

Unfortunately, common sense is not universal.

This reminds me of an instance in which a good friend (and a fellow poster to this board) was managing a restaurant where I was waitressing. A man and his young (maybe 6 or 7 year-old) son went used the bathroom and then washed their hands. When they came out of the bathrooms, the man complained to my friend about the temperature of the water in the sink. He said that the hot water was too hot and his son had “burned” his hands. He insisted that they should turn the heat down on the boiler so that the water didn’t get so hot. My friend explained to him that the water from the same boiler was used to wash the dishes and it was actually in his best interest, as in the interest of all customers, that the dishes be washed with the hottest water possible. He accepted this explanation and changed his tack. He said that, in that case, they ought to have a notice warning that the water got so hot. My friend replied, “did you notice the ‘H’ on the tap?”. The man said he did. My friend asked, “What does that stand for?”, looking straight at the little boy. The little boy replied, “HOT!”. Case closed.

Some mornings, it’s just not worth chewing through the leather straps.
– Emo Phillips

Is that why the McDonalds apple pies also have a warning printed on them saying: “CAUTION – apple filling is HOT”?

Whatever happened to the “reasonable person” standard? Or has that standard been lowered to the point where common sense (which should tell you not to put a cup of hot liquid between your legs while driving) is no longer common?

Common sense isn’t common, not at all. Also, between your legs is probably the easiest place to put your coffee if you’re pulling out of McD’s and you’re in a hurry, am I right?

Besides, I’ve spilled a full mug of fresh coffee in my lap. Directly into my lap. Yes, it was hot, and yes it was painful. However, I didn’t require skin grafts for third degree burns. I would assume that a cup of coffee that could burn you that badly was far hotter than should be served.

I sold my soul to Satan for a dollar. I got it in the mail.

Boy, I wish pldennison were still around!

Read the bottom of the first page of this thread

I know he had once posted a link to a web site discussing the facts of the case, but couldn’t find it.

IIRC, the plaintiff argued that coffee should be served ~130 - 140 degrees, and this coffee was like 190. I like my coffee hot. I measured once with a cooking thermometer, and 170 - 180 was where I preferred it. 140 was lukewarm to me–I’d send it back. I don’t take cream, but if I did, that would cool the coffee off (wasn’t the lady who was burned takng the lid off to add cream?). If I go to McDonald’s, I can’t make the coffee hotter than I get it, but I can let it cool off.
190 degrees is starting to sound like the right temperature to serve it.

It is too clear, and so it is hard to see.

::sighing:: I am so tired of arguing this case. All of the following is off the top of my head; I ain’t looking it up again.

“Hot” coffee is normally served at around 140 degrees or so, I believe it is. The coffee which caused the burns – serious burns – was at the vicinity of 180 degrees. That is forty degrees above the reasonable expectations of “coffee is hot.” That takes it from a normal everyday product into the realm of a dangerous product. If you spill coffee at 140 degrees you will perhaps get a burn, but nothing like third degree burns requiring skin grafts.

The McDonald’s in question had had dozens of complaints – and some prior injuries too, IIRC, – arising from serving the coffee so hot. That put them on notice of a potential problem, but they did nothing about it. Again, IIRC, most McDonald’s did not and do not serve their coffee at such an unusually high temperature, which explains why you personally may not have experienced this.


Here is a link to the US coffee association. They say that coffee should be brewed with water between 195 and 205 degrees. Fresh coffee should be served between 180 and 185 degrees.

Arnold, here is Phil again on th subject, from


From a legal journal discussing the case:

(footnotes omitted).

They could have settled the case for the $11,000 in medical bills, that’s all she initially wanted. Ultimately they got hit with a multi-million dollar punitive damages verdict. The case settled pending appeal for something around $600,000.

All this in New Mexico, which is not known for runaway jury verdicts.



would you mind citing the article (not that I doubt you). I’d like to get it for my own files - like you, I’ve had various conversations with people about this case, and would like to make sure I have my facts right.


and the stars o’erhead were dancing heel to toe

I clicked on this subject expecting to read rant after rant about stupid juries handing out huge awards like candy at Halloween. It was truly refreshing to see people calmly discussing the case – complete with actual honest-to-God fact! Bravo.

What I always try to remember about outlandish-sounding jury decisions is that the jurors had a heck of a lot more information than I do. Yes, they make some stupid decisions, but these are generally reasonable people studying an issue and trying to reach a fair verdict.

Up, up and away!

This story is old news, but every time it comes up again it really makes me sad that our culture has apparently abandoned all concept of responsibility for one’s own actions.

peas on earth

Another thing about those outlandish (depends on your POV, I expect) jury awards is that they are often substantially reduced later in the process, which tends to make far less of a news splash than the initial verdict.

Melin, want to add anything? I’ve reached the limits of my legal knowledge here.