McDonald’s – the famous fast food brand of the world, is still maintaining its position in the F&B service market. However, their success is not all about commission. The bigger the brand, the more likely a problem will arise – from employee welfare to customer benefits. In it, one of the biggest incidents they encountered is called “Hot Coffee” – a classic lawsuit that costs millions of dollars, just because of a cup of hot coffee.
The story is that a small old lady went to McDonald’s and ordered a cup of coffee, but then accidentally spilled her thigh and suffered severe burns. As a result, the case went to court, with the brand ruling that damages amounted to millions of dollars.
But the problem is that, the amount McDonald’s should pay would be much lower than that, if not handled too cumbersome.
On February 27, 1992, Stella Liebeck – a 79-year-old widow in her grandson’s car, went to a McDonald’s in Albuquerque (New Mexico) and ordered a meal. At that time, McDonald’s had yet to provide a cup holder for customers, and so everyone had to hold their own.
After receiving the cup of coffee in the meal, Mrs. Liebeck tried to open the lid to put the cream and sugar in. She put the glass on her lap, tried to open it, and shortly thereafter a loud scream rang out.
A hot cup of coffee was spilled onto her lap. It only happened for a few seconds, but it caused her to suffer third degree burns, damaging up to 16% of her body. She was hospitalized for several weeks, and underwent really serious skin grafting surgeries, and also very expensive.
“As a nurse, I panicked when I saw the trauma she went through,” Liebeck’s daughter-in-law, Barbara Liebeck said.
McDonald’s bulky handling and the classic lawsuit
Initially, Liebeck only contacted McDonald’s, asking for reimbursement of hospital fees up to nearly $ 20,000.
“We really didn’t expect a single cup of coffee to do so much damage,” Judy Allen, daughter of Mrs. Liebeck, shared in a documentary in 2013. “We wrote to McDonald’s, asking them to check the coffee temperature before handing them over, and at the same time responsible for the hospital fees my mom incurs.”
But McDonald’s refused. Instead, they only offer compensation around $ 800. And that was when Mrs. Liebeck turned to a lawyer. After all attempts to mediate failed, she decided to sue McDonald’s for $ 125,000 – including hospital fees, physical and mental injury. The argument made by the plaintiff is simple: McDonald’s cafe is too hot.
For those who do not know, at that time, McDonald’s ordered every franchise store to make coffee at 90 – 96 degrees C, and sell at over 80 degrees. These are much higher numbers than conventional coffee machines. According to Ken Wagner – a lawyer for Liebeck, the brand’s coffee has been brewed at almost the same temperature as a car engine after driving very long distances.
During the trial, the doctor responsible for the surgery for Liebeck – David Arredondo said that with such a high temperature, just a few seconds of exposure is enough to cause serious damage to the skin. “If you’re lucky, it’s a second degree. If you’re unlucky, it’ll be a third degree, and even skin graft surgery will be required.”
On the McDonald’s side, they have a reason to serve coffee at such a temperature. According to reports published in the magazine WSJ, The coffee taste will be more delicious and complete. So they blamed Mrs. Liebeck for the incorrect isolation. They argued that she should have stripped off the moment the coffee spilled. Furthermore, her age also made her injuries worse.
But miserably, Mrs. Liebeck is not alone. In fact, McDonald’s has received more than 700 reports of coffee burns in the past 10 years. Although it is argued that the number is too small compared to the billions of cups of coffee they sell each year, but unfortunately it is a cumbersome process. The jury does not like this argument.
“Behind each number are real real people, so I don’t think the corporation was aware of the seriousness behind that,” Said Betty Farnham, juror.
After 7 days of testimony and 4 hours of deliberation, the judge sided with the plaintiff. They sentenced Ms. Liebeck to receive $ 200,000 in injury compensation. But since she was the one who spilled it herself, the compensation was reduced to $ 160,000.
But that’s not all, she also gets an additional $ 2.7 million in fine from McDonald’s – corresponding to 2-day sales of the corporation. In total, she received more than 2.73 million dollars.
“The only way a big company has to pay attention is to get them hurt through fines,” – jury Marjorie Getman said. “And we think this is just a small harm.”
The fine was then reduced to $ 650,000, then $ 500,000 under the settlement of Mrs. Liebeck in court. Since then, McDonald’s has to serve coffee at a lower temperature, accompanied by a danger warning “Hot Coffee” on the glass.
Public opinion is angry
Ms. Liebeck’s lawsuit with McDonald’s has attracted special attention from the media. But the public opinion is the same everywhere, what most read is … the article title.
“Reading the words like ‘The woman spilled coffee, sued millions of dollars’, sounds like a robbery,” – John Llewellyn, professor of communications at Wake Forest University said. “It wouldn’t be a logically plausible combination to just know it.”
So the old lady Liebeck became the target of social attack. They think it’s too easy a lawsuit, allowing customers to become more tricky to money off big brands. Liebeck was judged to be too greedy, because of a “self-inflicted” error also sued to collect money.
The Liebecks said they felt horrified. “I was stunned to see how many people noticed things, with their misguided views,” – Judy Allen said. “There is too much false information, and even when I tell the truth, they dismiss it.”
“Someone even said that my mother asked for 30 million dollars, or some ridiculous amount. When she really just wanted to receive hospital fees, and should equip a cup holder to keep the incident from happening. self. “
Despite winning the lawsuit, Stella Liebeck’s health never recovered as before. She died in 2004, at the age of 91 years old, and that money was enough to cover the medical expenses of the last years of her life.