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The true saga of the McDonald's hot coffee lawsuit

Perhaps the most notorious personal injury settlement of all time belongs to the 79-year-old grandmother from Albuquerque, New Mexico, who in 1992, sued the fast food chain after she received severe burns from the cup of hot coffee she got from a McDonald's drive-thru.

Everyone, it seemed, jumped to the conclusion that this was a frivolous lawsuit. However, a closer inspection of the case told a different story.

The woman got burned when the coffee spilled as she tried to take off the lid to add cream and sugar. The hot liquid spilled over her legs, thighs, genitals, buttocks and groin, leaving her with third-degree, full thickness burns to 6 percent of her body.

She spent eight days in the hospital getting treatment for her burns. Her wounds were painfully debrided, and she eventually required skin grafts. The woman sued McDonald's for her injuries. According to sources, she was willing to settle the case for $20 K, but the fast food giant took it to court instead.

Discovery revealed some interesting insider information into McDonald's coffee. More than 700 claims had previously been filed by others who had been burned by the excruciatingly hot coffee the restaurant served in the decade prior to this lawsuit.

That indicated that the company "knew, or should have known" about the hazards of serving customers such overheated liquids. McDonald's quality assurance manager testimony in court was that it was a company requirement to keep the coffee temperature set at 185 degrees.

That was even though the QA manager admitted there were burn risks for drinks that were served at temperatures higher than 140 degrees. In fact, he acknowledged the coffee, when poured into cups for customers, was not yet fit for consumption and would burn customers' throats and mouths if they attempted to immediately swallow it. He also admitted that company didn't plan to lower their coffee's temperature.

A jury awarded plaintiff compensatory damages of $200,000, with additional punitive damages of $2.7 million. This was subsequently reduced to an undisclosed amount by mutual agreement of plaintiff and defendant to avoid a lengthy appeal.

Source: Huffington Post, "The McDonalds’ Coffee Case," Darryl S. Weiman, M.D., J.D., Jan. 07, 2017

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