McDonalds Hot Coffee Case: San Francisco Edition
Mable Childress was sipping coffee from a McDonald’s coffee in San Francisco in June 2023 when the lid fell off. Hot coffee spilled onto Childress, who allegedly suffered third-degree burns on her groin, legs, and abdomen. Childress, in her 80s, filed a lawsuit against the San Francisco McDonalds where she received the coffee.
Childress also claims that the employees at the McDonalds refused to help her afterward. She was allegedly standing for about 20-25 minutes asking for a manager. McDonalds denies this, and claims she was assisted within minutes.
History of Tort Reform
This is not the first time that McDonalds has been sued for hot coffee spills. The infamous McDonalds hot coffee lawsuit from 1994 lead to then 79-year-old Stella Liebeck being awarded $3 million for having hot coffee spilled on her lap, causing third-degree burns. The judgment was lowered by the trial judge to $640,000, but the case spawned a wave of “tort reform” laws to combat allegedly frivolous or excessive lawsuits.
However, McDonalds has seemingly learned very little in the thirty years between the lawsuits. In 1994, the restaurant chain boiled its coffee between 180 and 190 degrees. Childress’ attorney claims that his client’s coffee was more than 190 degrees. McDonalds has been sued twice more for hot coffee and once for hot chicken nuggets, prior to Childress’ lawsuit in mid-2023.
The Liebeck case in 1994 triggered a series of laws designed to limit how much a plaintiff can obtain from a lawsuit. Such methods include:
- non-economic damage caps
- punitive damage restrictions
- shortening statute of limitations
- limiting joint and several liability
This list is not exhaustive; there are other kinds of laws that were passed in response to the Liebeck judgment that are designed to shortchange a plaintiff. There has been some debate in the decades since about whether the Liebeck case was really excessive. Liebeck, like Mable Childress, was an elderly woman who suffered severe injuries because of the coffee – third degree burns are quite painful and nothing to make light of.
Notably, McDonalds had turned down settlement offers by Liebeck for as low as $20,000. Despite the previous judgment though, McDonalds keeps its coffee at about the same temperature, if not higher, as it did back in 1994. While McDonalds may argue that it didn’t know its coffee was dangerous during the Bill Clinton Administration, it has no such defense today after losing more than one highly publicized hot food cases. Maybe if McDonalds gets hit by another multi-million dollar judgment, it may finally get the message that its food temperatures are too dangerous for certain customers.
Do I Need the Help of a Personal Injury Attorney?
If you have sustained a personal injury through the unlawful act of another, you should contact a personal injury attorney. A skilled personal injury lawyer can review the facts of your case, go over your rights and options, and represent you in court.