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Revisiting the Notorious McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case in the Wake of a New Lawsuit

May 07, 2014

The insurance industry and other pro-business lobby groups successfully perpetrated the myth that the notorious McDonald's hot coffee lawsuit, which arose out of a 1992 spill of scalding coffee, was an example of frivolous litigation. The reality is that the victim in that case suffered horrific third degree burns to her groin, genitals and thighs. Her burns were so extensive that she needed skin grafts to repair the damage. The lessons of this earlier lawsuit are worth revisiting in the wake of a new lawsuit that has been filed against McDonald's for injuries caused by a coffee spill.

The recent McDonalds scalding coffee burn lawsuit alleges that an employee at the fast food establishment "negligently, carelessly and improperly" secured the lid on the top of a coffee cup which permitted a spill to occur according to a Los Angeles Times report. Presumably, the lawsuit is seeking compensation from McDonald's under the doctrine of "respondeat superior," which translated literally means "let the employer answer." This legal principle permits an injury victim to seek legal compensation against an employer when the negligence of an employee causes injury if the accident occurs in the course and scope of the worker's employment. The rationale behind this doctrine is that the employer is in the position to prevent accidents by implementing and enforcing appropriate safety precautions and quality control procedures. Further, the employer is more likely to have adequate insurance coverage to cover the cost of injuries and loss caused by the employer.

While it is too early to determine how this recently filed lawsuit will turn out, there has been a great deal of misinformation circulated by those who promote tort reform about the prior McDonald's hot coffee lawsuit. The coffee in that lawsuit was not just hot, rather it was a scalding 185 degrees even though coffee in home coffee makers usually brews at about thirty degrees lower. Further, evidence produced in the lawsuit indicated that the company was aware of the speed that coffee at this temperature would cause severe burn injuries but elected to disregard this risk. Many people also are unaware that McDonald's was allegedly on notice that their coffee would cause extensive burns at that temperature because they had received over 700 prior complaints according to evidence produced during the litigation. The burns were so severe that the 82-year-old victim remained in the hospital for a week while families members worried she would not survive her extensive burn injuries.

The key point to take away is that large corporations, insurance companies and others have a vested interest in minimizing the injuries suffered by personal injury victims and ridiculing the merits of legitimate lawsuits by dismissing them as "frivolous." There are many barriers to prevent lawsuits from being pursued that do not have a legitimate basis, so calls for tort reform that further bar the ability of injury victims to have their day in court and prevent full compensation for their injuries often promotes extremely unfair results.

If you or a close family member experiences serious injuries because of the negligent actions of an individual, business or governmental entity, you may be entitled to financial compensation. Our Atlanta Personal Injury Lawyers at Montlick and Associates have been representing injury victims for over thirty years throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast, including but not limited to all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat.

Category: Personal Injury

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Many of our blog articles discuss the law. All information provided about the law is very general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Every situation is different, and should be analyzed by a lawyer who can provide individualized advice based on the facts involved in your unique situation, and a consideration of all of the nuances of the statutes and case law that apply at the time.