I think it is safe to say that almost everyone has heard of the infamous McDonald’s coffee case, where the plaintiff received a healthy lump sum for suffering third-degree burns (some all the way to the bone) in her pelvic region when she spilled hot coffee. Why is it that companies keep finding themselves in hot water with hot coffee? Lourdes Cervantes, who is a resident of Houston TX, filed suit against Continental Airlines over an incident of hot coffee. Cervantes was on her way to Newark NJ from Madrid on board Continental Airlines Flight 63 where a stewardess placed a cup of coffee on the tray in front of her lap. The complaint states that the passenger in seated ahead of Cervantes reclined his seat, causing the coffee to slide off of the tray table on her lap mid-flight.
I recently saw a documentary, Hot Coffee. It discusses the idea of tort reform and bogus lawsuits. When one thinks of frivolous lawsuits, the case of Liebeck v. McDonald’s comes to mind. Stella Liebeck went to McDonald’s with her son. She was the passenger. After purchasing her coffee in the drive-thru, her son parked the car. Stella placed the coffee between her legs while she took off the lid. The 180 degree coffee spilled on her cotton pants absorbing it through the skin. The result was severe 3rd degree burns. Look up pictures and you will be shocked at the damage. The trial uncovered hundreds of past cases and proved that there was no reason to hold the coffee at that temperature. The jury decided to give Ms. Liebeck a few minutes of McDonald’s national coffee sales for her pain & suffering. That figure amounted to roughly $3 million dollars. The verdict was then lowered substantially by the judge; a power passed by the state legislature.