• Twitter
  • Facebook
News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Hot stuff

Insane lawsuit of the day:

A Northlake woman sued McDonald's in Cook County Circuit Court today claiming that her daughter was seriously burned in 2009 when a hot chocolate she ordered from the fast-food giant spilled and seriously burned her leg.

The fark heading for the story perfecly captured the situation: "Look, lady, it's called HOT Chocolate. Not Luke Warm Chocolate or Refreshingly Room Temperature Chocolate. Hot. H-O-T." I wouldn't swear to it in court, but the coffee from McDonald's (pretty good, by the way), seemed a lot cooler to me in the months after that woman was awarded $2 million for the hot-coffee spill. So get ready for some Refreshingly Room Temperature Chocolate. Nobody sue over the fries, OK? Nothing is worse that cold, greasy potatoes.


tim zank
Thu, 08/26/2010 - 3:22pm

I wonder if that old bag back in 1992 (the first McDonalds hot coffee lawsuit) realized how many gazillions of dollars she cost the general public over the last 18 years with new regulations and nonsensical warnings..probably not....

Shakespeare was right.

Thu, 08/26/2010 - 4:59pm

I seriously doubt that printing "warning: coffee is served hot" on a paper cup that already had a pattern printed on it cost "gazillions of dollars," although I agree the whole thing was silly.
Given the similarity between the cases, and the way the original judgment was drastically cut on appeal, I have to believe the hot chocolate suit will get tossed out of court.
What bugs me about fast food is the rule requiring burgers to be cooked to a damn crisp to kill all the bacteria.
There's nothing better than a juicy medium-rare burger, and I'm willing to take my chances. I cook them rare at home and I'm not dead yet.
Why can't I buy a pink hamburger, but sushi joints can sell raw fish? Oh yeah. Rich politicians and their friends eat sushi. Regular joes eat Big Macs.

Thu, 08/26/2010 - 5:33pm

Yes yes, facts, they're troubling:

There is a lot of hype about the McDonalds' scalding coffee case. No one is in favor of frivolous cases of outlandish results; however, it is important to understand some points that were not reported in most of the stories about the case. McDonalds coffee was not only hot, it was scalding -- capable of almost instantaneous destruction of skin, flesh and muscle. Here's the whole story.

Stella Liebeck of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was in the passenger seat of her grandson's car when she was severely burned by McDonalds' coffee in February 1992. Liebeck, 79 at the time, ordered coffee that was served in a styrofoam cup at the drivethrough window of a local McDonalds.

After receiving the order, the grandson pulled his car forward and stopped momentarily so that Liebeck could add cream and sugar to her coffee. (Critics of civil justice, who have pounced on this case, often charge that Liebeck was driving the car or that the vehicle was in motion when she spilled the coffee; neither is true.) Liebeck placed the cup between her knees and attempted to remove the plastic lid from the cup. As she removed the lid, the entire contents of the cup spilled into her lap.

The sweatpants Liebeck was wearing absorbed the coffee and held it next to her skin. A vascular surgeon determined that Liebeck suffered full thickness burns (or third-degree burns) over 6 percent of her body, including her inner thighs, perineum, buttocks, and genital and groin areas. She was hospitalized for eight days, during which time she underwent skin grafting. Liebeck, who also underwent debridement treatments, sought to settle her claim for $20,000, but McDonalds refused.

During discovery, McDonalds produced documents showing more than 700 claims by people burned by its coffee between 1982 and 1992. Some claims involved third-degree burns substantially similar to Liebecks. This history documented McDonalds' knowledge about the extent and nature of this hazard.

McDonalds also said during discovery that, based on a consultants advice, it held its coffee at between 180 and 190 degrees fahrenheit to maintain optimum taste. He admitted that he had not evaluated the safety ramifications at this temperature. Other establishments sell coffee at substantially lower temperatures, and coffee served at home is generally 135 to 140 degrees.

Further, McDonalds' quality assurance manager testified that the company actively enforces a requirement that coffee be held in the pot at 185 degrees, plus or minus five degrees. He also testified that a burn hazard exists with any food substance served at 140 degrees or above, and that McDonalds coffee, at the temperature at which it was poured into styrofoam cups, was not fit for consumption because it would burn the mouth and throat. The quality assurance manager admitted that burns would occur, but testified that McDonalds had no intention of reducing the "holding temperature" of its coffee.

Plaintiffs' expert, a scholar in thermodynamics applied to human skin burns, testified that liquids, at 180 degrees, will cause a full thickness burn to human skin in two to seven seconds. Other testimony showed that as the temperature decreases toward 155 degrees, the extent of the burn relative to that temperature decreases exponentially. Thus, if Liebeck's spill had involved coffee at 155 degrees, the liquid would have cooled and given her time to avoid a serious burn.

McDonalds asserted that customers buy coffee on their way to work or home, intending to consume it there. However, the companys own research showed that customers intend to consume the coffee immediately while driving.

McDonalds also argued that consumers know coffee is hot and that its customers want it that way. The company admitted its customers were unaware that they could suffer thirddegree burns from the coffee and that a statement on the side of the cup was not a "warning" but a "reminder" since the location of the writing would not warn customers of the hazard.

The jury awarded Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages. This amount was reduced to $160,000 because the jury found Liebeck 20 percent at fault in the spill. The jury also awarded Liebeck $2.7 million in punitive damages, which equals about two days of McDonalds' coffee sales.

Post-verdict investigation found that the temperature of coffee at the local Albuquerque McDonalds had dropped to 158 degrees fahrenheit.

The trial court subsequently reduced the punitive award to $480,000 -- or three times compensatory damages -- even though the judge called McDonalds' conduct reckless, callous and willful.

No one will ever know the final ending to this case.

The parties eventually entered into a secret settlement which has never been revealed to the public, despite the fact that this was a public case, litigated in public and subjected to extensive media reporting. Such secret settlements, after public trials, should not be condoned.
excerpted from ATLA fact sheet.

tim zank
Thu, 08/26/2010 - 6:57pm

It's still a load of crap. It's called hot coffee cuz it's hot. Just because a small percentage of the population is braindead, we now have warning labels that tell us hot coffee is uh, hot.

There's always somebody to blame for your own stupid behavior, right?

Lewis Allen
Thu, 08/26/2010 - 8:43pm

Thank you, MichaelK43, for bringing some logic into this argument. Here's a thought experiment: Suppose the woman hadn't spilled the coffee herself, but had been in a collision that wasn't her fault. Surely, both the driver of the accident and McDonald's would bear responsabilty for the damages.

tim zank
Thu, 08/26/2010 - 9:06pm

And of course Lewis, following that logic, so would the cup maker (not strong enough) the lid maker (didn't fit tightly enough) the car manufacturer (didn't withstand the crash well enough to absorb the shock, thus spilling aforementioned coffee) the tire manufacturer (car wasn't able to dodge the oncoming vehicle cuz tread wasn't "sticky" enough) the electronics company that manufactured the accident avoidance system for the car, the manufacturer of the clothing she was wearing (too absorbent) and a host of others as well....

Do you see how this whole system of civil law has become absolutely ridiculous?

And littlejohn, how many businesses do you suppose just folded up in the last 20 years rather than be sued? How much has it cost all consumers in the last 20 years in the added cost to every product and service provided to pay for lawyers, insurance and settlements??

Thu, 08/26/2010 - 10:00pm

@tim zank

Can you, as a matter of fact, not read?

"Further, McDonalds

tim zank
Thu, 08/26/2010 - 11:03pm

Michaelk42, I'm no rocket scientist, but it seems to me they get it real hot so it will stay hot, because it's a drive through where the idea is to pick up your order & drive home to consume it.

Here's a novel idea, wait a little bit for it to cool down. No, that'll never work, it's common sense.

I'm sure the hopelessly inept will continue to do stupid things and sue other people, it's become a way of life in this country.

Thu, 08/26/2010 - 11:17pm

Now it's common sense? That someone can't drink something that's just been served to them?

There's an accepted standard wait time for food served out of all drive-through windows? Just McDonalds? Does this apply to hot sandwiches as well? At all places, or just there?

Do you really think people, drivers and passengers, don't intend to consume anything in their cars and wait until they get home? Are you really this blindingly stupid?

I can't imagine how cup holders built into cars even begin to fit in this little pocket universe you inhabit.

The point is you don't give someone a beverage heated to the point that it will hospitalize them if it makes contact with their flesh. That's generally considered a bad idea.

"McDonalds asserted that customers buy coffee on their way to work or home, intending to consume it there. However, the companys own research showed that customers intend to consume the coffee immediately while driving."

So much for your common sense there. RTFA.

No Zank, you're certainly no rocket scientist.

tim zank
Fri, 08/27/2010 - 8:55am

Michaelk42, I'll never be able to shake the mindset you and so many others have, that being that a company or a government or somebody else has an absolute obligation to keep you from harms way, and if afflicted, must compensate you for falling into harms way.

Unfortunately it's not a simple "right or wrong" question, it's a matter of the way and times in which you were raised. My guess is you're a lot younger than I am and that means you were raised in an era in which self responsibility was set aside. Your generation was raised to believe their is redress for any and all circumstances, i.e. there is always someone else to blame for anything that happens.

Simple example, but it fits, when I grew up if you stuck a knife in a light socket it knocked you on your ass and your dad explained to you why it hurt and why you shouldn't do it again. In your generation, no one had to explain the danger (of that or anything else) because the consumer product safety commission and various other arms of government provided your parents with socket plug covers. Like child proof safety latches on cupboards, childproof medicine bottles, etc, instead of parents teaching you WHY you shouldn't do something the feds just eliminated the need by childproofing everything. These are just a couple of simple examples but there are thousands more where the state has simply "insulated" you from harm and regulated everything possible to absolve you of personal responsibility.

You grew up under state sponsored "nanny" control and it shows.

Bob G.
Fri, 08/27/2010 - 8:59am

What they should do is print the damn warning on the BOTTOM of the cup, with instructions to read it written on the damn lid.
(dumbasses...every single freaking one of them)
Probably the same ones that place knives into outlets...or smoke incense...LOL.

Ditto on the Shakespeare, Tim!

tim zank
Fri, 08/27/2010 - 9:08am

To directly address your question "Now it

Andrew J.
Fri, 08/27/2010 - 10:42am

Tim, and I suspect you are of the generation where they were no warning labels - where taking a bath in a drum of Agent Orange in Vietnam was considered OK; where swimming as a teen in a PCB-laden drainage ditch was considered the price of industrial progress; when government's initial attempts at placing warning labels on cigarettes was decried as socialism and meddling in the marketplace; and when baby cribs with gates that could suffocate a toddler were the best parents could expect. You consider some of these government rules as a way Big Brother "insulated" us from personal responsibility. I consider them rules and regulations that saved lives and prevented unnecessary injuries. It's called compassion. Don't know why that so riles you up.

tim zank
Fri, 08/27/2010 - 11:16am

Andrew, I'll not refute every single example from above as it would take days, but suffice to say it's not about compassion. You can tell yourself that if it makes you feel better about being mothered over from cradle to grave but it's about common sense and an entire society emerging that needs it's collective arse wiped.....and the sad thing to me is, we probably will never get away from it.

Bob G.
Fri, 08/27/2010 - 12:16pm

Re: "Getting away from it"...
Those that CAN...WILL.
And those that are lazy and stupid...WILL NOT.

Fri, 08/27/2010 - 7:44pm

@Tim Zank

"...that being that a company or a government or somebody else has an absolute obligation to keep you from harms way, and if afflicted, must compensate you for falling into harms way. "

Which is absolutely not what I have said. Nice strawman, though.

The serving temperature (when it is served to the customer, not when it it pulled off the stove, you dolt. You're mixing up cooking and the subsequent serving) of most liquids is around 140-150 degrees give or take. This is a temperature the human body can stand.

A temperature of 180-190 degrees is about the average temperature of the coolant in automobiles.

That's not about an "absolute obligation" to keep someone out of harm's way, that's about not giving them something that is obviously dangerous.

The rest of your moronic conjecture is thus dismissed.

Larry Morris
Fri, 08/27/2010 - 10:12pm

Michaelk42, next time you're down my way, I'll buy you some Micky-Ds coffee :-) , I like it hot, just the way it's served, ...

tim zank
Sat, 08/28/2010 - 9:51am

Suffice to stay, you don't pee into the wind, the sun rises in the east, coffee is served hot, and you can't fix stupid.

Sat, 08/28/2010 - 12:13pm

Yes Tim, you're an excellent example of that last one. :)

Put that 180 degree water on yourself yet? It's only "hot" right? Put up or shut up, as they say.

tim zank
Sat, 08/28/2010 - 12:36pm

If my coffee is too hot, I let it cool. I also come in out of the rain and I don't drive around railroad crossing barricades.

Tough stuff to fathom, eh?

Sat, 08/28/2010 - 2:07pm

Oh, so if you're aware it's dangerously hot, and not at an appropriate serving temperature, you behave differently.

Now all you have to do is figure out that 180+ is beyond hot and into dangerous, and you'll have almost the entire clue!

You're getting there!

tim zank
Sat, 08/28/2010 - 6:18pm

michaelk42 "Oh, so if you

Sat, 08/28/2010 - 7:23pm


Oh, Tim. You fell off. You still haven't got the dangerous part of it.

But here's the thing: how do you know for certain when it's dangerously hot or serving temperature?

You're! Almost! There!

BTW, keep this up, and maybe your anti-muslim cheerleading in the Zero Tolerance thread will go down in the Google "Tim Zank realtor" results!

tim zank
Sun, 08/29/2010 - 9:08am

To answer your question "how do you know for certain when it

Sun, 08/29/2010 - 9:56am

Ah, so you can tell the difference between 180+ and 140 or so through a containment vessel's surface.

Because lots of places serve things at radiator-coolant-range temperatures and admit it's dangerous, right?

Oh no, wait. That was just McDonald's so far. As they admitted in court, as posted above.

This isn't an argument Tim, this is you failing to recognize what's right in front of your face and being proud of it, condescending even.

OTOH, you do provide great entertainment.

tim zank
Mon, 08/30/2010 - 7:54am

Michaelsk42 notes "Ah, so you can tell the difference between 180+ and 140 or so through a containment vessel

Mon, 08/30/2010 - 7:41pm

@Tim Zank


Does the phrase "through a cup or whatever's surface" use small enough words for you?


tim zank
Tue, 08/31/2010 - 12:28pm

I just noticed , we have a coin operated coffee/hot chocolate machine at the office and on it, is a sticker that says "CAUTION HOT BEVERAGE" "TEMPERATURE MAY EXCEED 160 FAHRENHEIT" and of course the kicker right below in big letters "USE CARE"...

Who am I supposed to call to have this menace removed from my midst and my clients? The feds or a lawyer??

Oh the humanity...

and michael, check the next time you buy a hammer in case you didn't know, you're not supposed to hit yourself in the head with it. It says so right on it.

Tue, 08/31/2010 - 10:57pm

You don't know what the *exponential* relationship between temperature and burns is, do you Tim?

Oh wait, I don't need to ask that, you just answered it. XD

But you notice they're warning you it could hurt you in more than a scalding manner, don't you? As in, it would hurt you more than you would expect...

Are you so dumb that you don't realize you're providing an example of my point there?

tim zank
Wed, 09/01/2010 - 1:23pm

Michaelk42..In r/e your question "Are you so dumb that you don