Revisiting the McDonald's Coffee Case

Discussion in 'Community' started by Punani, May 14, 2005.

  1. Punani macrumors regular

    Punani

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    #1
    Note: Split from an Off-Topic Discussion About the TigerDirect Case

    The McDonald's Coffee Case (Liebeck v. McDonald's Corporation, P.T.S., Inc.) is often citied as the preeminent example of a frivolous lawsuit. Indeed, the summary of a woman spilling coffee on her lap while driving and then suing for millions sounds stupid and a gross insult to common sense. However, this is also an extreme simplification of the facts...

    The case was initiated after McDonald's refused to reimburse the defendant Stella Liebeck for her medical bills after receiving third-degree burns—third-degree burns do not heal without skin grafting, debridement and whirlpool treatments that cost tens of thousands of dollars and result in permanent disfigurement, extreme pain and disability of the victim for many months, and in some cases, years.

    Let it be noted that the case attributed 20% of the accident to Liebeck who clearly wasn't too keen on opening a hot cup of coffee in her lap. It should also be noted that the National Coffee Association recommends coffee be brewed at "between 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit for "optimal extraction" and drunk "immediately". If not drunk immediately, it should be "maintained at 180-185 degrees Fahrenheit, and indeed this was McDonald's official policy on their coffee.

    The problem does not arise from these two matters however, it was the result of myriad facts including:

    * McDonald's had known they had a problem with the way they make their coffee - that their coffee was served much hotter (at least 20 degrees more so) than at other restaurants.

    * There were numerous cases where others had also incurred serious burns from the coffee, and despite these cases, McDonald's never bothered to consult a burn expert or try and do something with regards to the safety risk.

    * A McDonald's quality assurance manager testified in the case that the company was aware of the risk of serving dangerously hot coffee and had no plans to either turn down the heat or to post warning about the possibility of severe burns, even though most customers wouldn't think it was possible.

    The fact of the matter is that the case rested on the question: Does the average person on the street expect coffee bought at a fast food restaurant to cause bodily harm requiring a hospital stay? No.
     
  2. Applespider macrumors G4

    Applespider

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    #2
    It's also worth noting that the final damages were under $1m after appeal.

    I wouldn't have called this a frivolous lawsuit but I do believe that people have to take some responsibility for their behaviour. If the coffee had been split on the woman by an employee, then I'd have a lot more sympathy for her. Driving along in a car with a flimsy polystyrene cup between the thighs is asking for trouble - for spills if not burns. I can appreciate that part of the reasoning in this case was that the customer didn't have an expectation that the coffee would be so hot that it would burn so quickly.
     
  3. Dr.Gargoyle macrumors 65816

    Dr.Gargoyle

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    #3
    OMG, just when you thought it was over.... :rolleyes:
     
  4. Dr.Gargoyle macrumors 65816

    Dr.Gargoyle

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    #4

    Again, as someone previously noted. The optimal coffee brewing temp is 199 F (93C). McDonald's coffee was at 180 F +- 5 F. Just because all other restaurants serve terrible coffee does that mean McDonald's must too?
    Besides, common sense tells you that coffee could be hot.

    Again, coffee must be prepared at very high temp. in order to taste good. Again, coffee is hot, and you have to use common sense when you drink hot beverages.... even small children understand that.

    That would be the equivalent of not including butter/sugar in food since that could harm peoples health too. If the above would be a valid argument, then all restaurants would have to leave out e.g. kaffein which is clearly a health hazard. They would not be able to serve any eggs, due to the risk involved with cholesterole. Again, common sense. This lawsuit is as ridiculous as the suit that came right after when some people sued McDonald's for making them fat. Where is the common sense??????
    Once and for all:
    You might get burned on hot coffee
    You could grow overweight if you eat too much.

    If people have a can't understand that eventhough it has been repeated to them again and again from early childhood, they might as well do mankind a favour and get out of the genepool.
    As always, of course only my opinion.
     
  5. rainman::|:| macrumors 603

    rainman::|:|

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    #5
    If I remember correctly, part of the problem was that McDonalds immediately offered to pay her treatment, then they decided it would be opening them to punitive liability and reneged, which is actually what lead her to sue. Personally I would have liked to see some of the liability fall on the cup manufacturer, who rated these for extremely hot drinks (and knew they'd be going into drivethru situations) but didn't make the covers tight enough to stay on. Places like truckstops use thicker plastic and covers that snap on, yet I think McDonalds was using single-wall styrofoam cups with covers so thin they became pliable from the steam.
     
  6. Dr.Gargoyle macrumors 65816

    Dr.Gargoyle

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    #6
    Fact: Coffee is best prepared at 199F
    Fact: Coffee is best consumed directly after preparation
    Fact: Fast food restaurants implies an immediate deliverly of your order.

    This boilsdown to that the coffee served most likely, assuming the restaurant cares about the quality of their product, will be hotter than consumption temperature.
    Common sense tells you that you have to make sure you dont burn yourself. Moreover, coffee at consumption temperature (which of course varies from person to person) will most likely cause burn wounds too.
    Judging from the respons I get here, leads me to believe that I expect too much of people.... :(
     
  7. asif786 macrumors 65816

    asif786

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    #7
    that's a very good point. just imagine you to go starbucks, get your drink, and the top snaps off or melts or something similar, giving you facial burns. i wouldn't stand for that, and i'm sure many others wouldnt either.
     
  8. Dr.Gargoyle macrumors 65816

    Dr.Gargoyle

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    #8
    The key problem here are the law suits. Companies are scared stiff admitting any fault, since that opens up for HUGE law suits. Law suits which in the end we all have to pay for in terms of higher prices.
    If I came to a restaurant and they served me a coffee in a cup that I found nonfunctional, I would of course ask for another. If they couldnt provide me with functional cup, I would ask to get my money back and find myself a new place.
    This should rather be solved by common sense and personal responsability, than through frivolous law suits that doesn't benefit anyone else but the lawyer involved.
     
  9. Punani thread starter macrumors regular

    Punani

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    #9
    Dr.Gargoyle:

    I feel that you are arguing that the optimal temperature and taste of coffee outweigh safety concerns.

    There is, to me, nothing wrong with the temperature by which the coffee was kept. Indeed, the jury understood that Lebeick wasn't being very smart when she opened a cup of coffee in her lap, and I mentioned that 20% of the fault was attributed to her.

    The problem is that McDonald's knew that there were already numerous issues with their coffee procedures and failed to do anything about them. The fact that other restaurants were willing to keep the temperature down a few notches is clear that they wanted to avoid such safety and implicit legal problems arising from such matters.

    In fact, "McDonald's asserted that customers buy coffee on their way to work or home, intending to consume it there. However, the company's own research showed that customers intend to consume the coffee immediately while driving." And coffee served like that cannot be drunk immediately.

    Was there some lack of common sense involved here? Definitely. However, that was not what the court decided on. There was evidence that the safety risk was known and McDonald's willfully refused to acknowledge it. The fact that coffee's best done in X, Y, and Z conditions, really has very little to do with the merits of this case.
     
  10. Punani thread starter macrumors regular

    Punani

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    #10
    Most of the well cited cases that are used to argue the need for tort reform are oversimplifications of the cases. And more importantly, businesses are the ones who tend to file the nonsense litigation.

    Study
     
  11. Dr.Gargoyle macrumors 65816

    Dr.Gargoyle

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    #11
    I agree totally, but you as an individual must have some responsability. A normal coffee cup with lid isn't designed to withhold the pressure of two thighs squeezing it. It is designed to be carried in your hand or placed in a cupholder/table. That is it. So if you squeeze it very hard in your hand, you will most definitely have hot coffee all over your hand.
    My point is that there does not exist any fool proof coffee cups. Even if we wanted to cough up with the extra money to keep these people safe from themselves, we just couldn't do it. The simple truth is that you must exercise some common sense if you are going to survive in this world. period.
     
  12. Don't panic macrumors 603

    Don't panic

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    #12
    talking about beating a dead horse...
    no matter how you turn it, that was and remain the posterchild of frivolous suits and it did more harm then good for consumers in general. At most they should have been forced to cover hospital expenses.

    Anyway, if you want to brew a good coffee, here is the real deal (from scientific american)
     
  13. Dr.Gargoyle macrumors 65816

    Dr.Gargoyle

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    #13
    So, according to your argumentation. Restuarants must provide low quality coffee just to protect these people from themselves? That is, I will not be able to get a good cup of coffee just because we are going to protect a small number of people that will get hurt no matter what we do to protect them.
    IMHO, A person that opens places hot coffee in between her thighs and removes the lid shouldn't be allowed to drive a car. Just imagine someone of your family meeting this woman when she pours coffee all over her thighs. It doesnt matter what the temp would be, I doubt that she would concentrate on the traffic.
    The basic truth is, not matter what, you will always find some genious that mess up due to lack of common sense. The key question here is to what length should we go in our strive to protect these people from themselves. Is it possible at all?
     
  14. asif786 macrumors 65816

    asif786

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    #14
    this is true, every case has its own merits and <damnit what's the word i'm looking for here??> and this mcdonalds coffee case always has me thinking about it for ages.

    with my example, if i was just walking down the street and my cup broke and burned me, i would be angry. i dont know if i'd start a lawsuit, but i'd certainly be pissed. if i was squeezing the cup as hard as i could or doing something equally stupid, then naturally it's my own responsibility. i agree that no matter how safe/foolproof you make a product, someone will always get hurt.

    i guess the real question in this case is: was the coffee too hot? and secondly, do people *actually* drink coffee from mcdonalds?
     
  15. Dr.Gargoyle macrumors 65816

    Dr.Gargoyle

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    #15
    I agree totally. It is sad to see people who do have legitimate claims being thrown out of court, just because people are sick and tired of frivolous suits
     
  16. dornoforpyros macrumors 68040

    dornoforpyros

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    #16
    :rolleyes: uggg

    Fact:Coffee is hot.
    Fact:I'm sure every other cup of coffee this woman had drank in her life had been served hot.
    Fact:Coffee is hot!
    Fact:The woman spilled it ON HERSELF. It's not as if a McD's employee through the cup of coffee in her lap
    Fact: COFFEE IS HOT!

    As far as I'm concerned this case was 100% BS and the dumb old lady shouldn't have gotten ANYTHING. I mean if I purchase a knife and I manage to lop off one of my fingers while dicing tomatoes can I hold the knife maker responsible?
    NO because I know knives are sharp and apparently I'm too stupid to use a knife.

    Just my 2 cents. :rolleyes:
     
  17. Dr.Gargoyle macrumors 65816

    Dr.Gargoyle

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    #17
    Again, Coffee is best prepared at 199F and best consumed directly after preparation. AS SOON AS it is not too hot...:D (you never know, I might get sued... :p )
    That is an entirely different question... :rolleyes: I think McDonald's have lost a lot of business to Starbucks, and such... Still, to be quite honest, I am not that keen of american coffee. But give them a couple of years or so, I am sure they will get the hang of it eventually. The talk about preparing and drinking coffee at 145F, makes me doubt though...
     
  18. Dr.Gargoyle macrumors 65816

    Dr.Gargoyle

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    #18
    LMAO... I have, unsuccessfully, been trying to argue this point all day now. Where have you been when I needed you? :mad: ;) :p
     
  19. rainman::|:| macrumors 603

    rainman::|:|

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    #19
    I'm not going to debate the merits of all "frivolous" lawsuits here, I don't think anyone's too happy paying higher prices to cover emotional pain/suffering from deformed M&Ms or something. But honestly, you don't think corporate greed is what lead McDonalds to use cheap cups? Like I said, truckstops, gas stations, and even other fast-food vendors have been using much stronger cups for years, why would that be? Seems like everyone but McDonalds realized how bad of an idea it was to give drivers coffee in practically paper cups. Today McDonalds uses reenforced cups just like everyone else, and their even have that "warning: hot coffee" label now. If they would have used cups like this to begin with, there would have been no lawsuit. I say that McDonalds took a gamble to save some money, and they lost that gamble. Consumers depend on the safety of products they buy today, and lawsuits are meant as a way of encouraging "bad" companies to get up to snuff. (Knives, btw, are made for cutting, coffee is not made to cause 3rd-degree burns). When people get all anti-frivolous-lawsuits, they throw the baby out with the bathwater, and denounce all lawsuits as bad. Frankly that's not true. You can debate the validity of this lawsuit, but to call all lawsuits bad? I think that's shortsighted.
     
  20. Dr.Gargoyle macrumors 65816

    Dr.Gargoyle

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    #20
    I dont doubt for a second that McDonald's is in the business to make as much money as possible. I dare you to find one company that isn't.
    Of course there will. It is just a matter of time until the next rocket scientist finds an alternative use of their coffee cup.
    There does not exist any fool proof gadgets of any sort. There is always an idiot out there finding a way to harm himself with anything, absolutely anything. if you doubt what I say have a look at the site www.darwinawards.com
    As Einstein said: There are only two infinites in this world. The universe and human stupidity. However, I have my doubts about the former... ;)
     
  21. Don't panic macrumors 603

    Don't panic

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    #21
    but it's exactly because i want only the legitimate lawsuits (especially against big corporations) to stand that the obviously frivolous ones should be thrown (and I think this one was one of them).
    I don't remember anymore but I don't recall that the cup broke or melted. she dropped/poured it on herself. and do you think it would have been any different if it said "caution: hot on the cover"? do you think she didn't know that it was hot?
     
  22. Dr.Gargoyle macrumors 65816

    Dr.Gargoyle

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    #22
    It was a long time ago so I dont remember exacly how she got about it. I think she placed the cup of coffee in between her thighs. Somehow she managed to get the lid open, and since the muscles in your thighs are much stronger and less precise it only takes a slight push to get coffee all over your thighs.
    But I really think it doesnt matter how she did it. Just consider the millions of normal consumers that actually managed to complete the complicated task of drinking a cup of coffee successfully without getting third degree burns... It wasn't like there was a steady stream of ambulances running from McDonald's to the burn units. That says it all...
     
  23. rainman::|:| macrumors 603

    rainman::|:|

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    #23
    don'tpanic: You never said all lawsuits were bad, Dr. Gargoyle did. And for the record, I don't think that "hot coffee" label does anything, but the reenforced cups sure do.
    Okay, so let's handle that last comment, where you lie and say that everyone else was immune to McDonalds coffee.
    700 is a lot more than none.

    She wasn't carrying the cup between her thighs. This was an 81-year-old woman who took the top off to add cream/sugar. The cup buckled when the lid was removed. 3rd-degree burns on her lap, thighs, vagina, and buttocks. I've spilled coffee on my lap at home, and you know what? My coffeemaker sure the hell doesn't cause hospital stays.

    This is a problem unique to McDonalds, none of their competitors have had a problem like this. Nor any other company that serves hot coffee. Just McDonalds. How is it these other companies can be out to make a profit, yet McD's is the only one that jeopardizes consumer safety for it?
     
  24. Dr.Gargoyle macrumors 65816

    Dr.Gargoyle

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    #24
    Where did I say that all law suits were bad?
    Where did I say that no other people got burned from coffee?
    I wrote: ... Just consider the millions of normal consumers that actually managed to complete the complicated task of drinking a cup of coffee successfully without getting third degree burns... It wasn't like there was a steady stream of ambulances running from McDonald's to the burn units... . In fact, previously in http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=126590&page=2&pp=25 I wrote ... I dont doubt there are many burn cases of coffee. As I said you have to handle it with care, and any sensible person should know that the coffee is supposed to be hot. Hence, you can not treat it as it was a can of coke...

    If you remove the lid, the entire structure of the cup disappears, and buckles in. We all know it, or should know it. Of course you can provide the customers with much sturdier cups, but that also implies they have to pay more for their coffee. It is ultimately the customers that decides whether they want to pay for it or not. IMHO, I think don't think this suit benefits consumer interests, on the contrary. It is very bad publicity for McDonald's that an old lady gets burned at a restaurant. It would have been in McDonald's interest to pay the medical bills of the old lady if it wasn't for that fact this would be interpreted as admitting to guilt in the judicial world. This is the bottomline with all these frivolous law suits. Companies are forced to keep their guards up all the time, just to avoid costly law suits.
    I still think she messed up and it was her own fault, but that is my opinion and I do think I am entitled to have one, just as you are entitled to have yours, right?
    Does that mean I think she had it comming? No, it doesn't. Does it mean I don't pitty for her? No, it doesn't. It only means I don't think our need to find someone to blame when we mess up should be awarded by the courts.
    And why do I beleive that? As I said before, people with legitimate claims don't get a fair chance in court just because the courts are flooded with frivolous law suits. it doesn't matter how much your heart bleeds for his old woman, rewarding her law suit doesn't help society in the long run. It does more harm than good. My stand point in this too long discussion is and has been based on what I think is is optimal for society, not about protecting McDonald's or any other big business

    You can't honestly claim that no other competitors have had any problems what so ever? You know that isnt true. When you make these comparisions you have to take in consideration the size of McDonald's. They are huge in comparision with their competitors.
    According to your findings, there have been 700 burns over the past decade. That is about 70 per year. How many cups of coffee do you think McDonald's serve each year? As I said there hasn't exactly been ambulances going back and forth McDonald's and the burn unit. Moreover, the article said that these burn wounds where everything from mild to third degree, i.e. we have no idea how these burn are dispersed over the scale, we can only speculate. But my money is that most of them have been mild burn wounds. Another factor that you have to take in consideration when you look at figures like these is that big companies are much more likely to be sued than a small company. The reason for this is not only are they bigger and have more customers, but they also have more money to pay if they lose.

    I am sure you can find places that brews coffee too cold, just as I am certain you can find places that serves cold coffee. I have no idea what drives these companies to that strategy.
    I only know this: Coffee has to be brewed at at 199F, and coffee is best served fresh out of the pot.
    Until someone can beat the physics, and brew good coffee at low temp., you are stuck with these restrictions.
     
  25. Punani thread starter macrumors regular

    Punani

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    #25
    The case is not commenting on the stupidity of the defendant's actions. This case was based on the fact that McDonald's refused to address the issue with even a simply warning on the cup, despite the fact that accidents (including having coffee dropped onto a person from the service window) had occurred numerous times.

    If this was an isolated case, I would wholly agree with your position. I mean, if a someone's car had a fuse that shorted out, one might just assume that the person may have used one at a wrong amperage, if it happened to 500 people, one might start to wonder if this was a defect in the car's construction.
     

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