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Liebeck Vs McDonald’s Case Study

By:   •  October 29, 2018  •  Case Study  •  1,309 Words (6 Pages)  •  25 Views

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This case happen in Aug 18,1994 in Albuquerque New Mexico, an old lady named Stella Liebeck spilled a cup of scorching hot McDonald’s coffee in her lap, have a medical condition third degree burns as an outcome. She bring a lawsuit against McDonald’s and was awarded $2.9 million. This cause case a huge debate about America’s frolicsome legal action trend and the vital need for tort law development. Years later, the case is still open to give an example of the legal system gone error, but system was completely right and Stella Liebeck won her case because McDonald’s had been careless, concerning  to the requisites of tort law.

What is tort law?

Tort law is something that causes someone damage. Tort law is a legal rights, requirement and preparation that are functional by the courts in civil actions to offer relief for those who are victims of physical, financial, and legal harm. Negligence torts are in the wrong that take place through a person’s letdown to put into effect due care against risks that are known to be likely harmful, and it was an accusation of ‘gross negligence’ that Stella Liebeck’s lawyer request to bring lawsuit against McDonald’s.

What actually happened

The following is a brief summary of the Liebeck vs McDonald’s case, from the moment the coffee was spilled to the awarding of the damages against McDonald’s.

  •  Stella Liebeck was sitting in her car she was going put cream and sugar to her McDonald’s coffee. She did not have no cup holders in her car, she put the coffee between her legs and she remove the lid. The coffee spilled into her lap and it burns her. She was taken to hospital immediately, where she expected treatment for severe third degree burns to her thighs, buttocks and groin. She stayed in hospital for a week and expected an amount of skin grafts. After she release from the hospital Stella Liebeck write a letter to the manager at McDonald’s, ask for that they pay damages to her. And her medical bills the amount of $10,000 and made a statement that she received severe burns due to coffee was too hot.  So the manager at McDonald’s respond her, and offering her $800. Stella Liebeck was not satisfied the offer, but made numerous attempt to recuperate her medical costs from them. McDonald’s disagree to pay, so she hired a legal representative and brought civil actions against them.

Her lawyer, Reed Morgan, argued that McDonald’s was guilty of gross negligence because they were selling coffee that they knew to be ‘unreasonably dangerous’. McDonald’s had a policy of serving their takeaway coffee at between 180 and 190 degrees Fahrenheit, so that it would remain hot until the purchaser arrived home. Morgan argued that this temperature was too hot and produced medical evidence to show that such temperatures could produce third degree burns in under fifteen seconds.

  • A jury found in favour of Stella Liebeck, awarding her compensatory damages of $200,000 (reduced to $160,000 for her 20% contributory negligence) and also punitive damages of $2.7 million. The trial judge later reduced this amount to $640,000 and the two parties settled out of court prior to an appeal for a lesser amount.

I agreed with the verdict because they found out that McDonald's had so many complaints about the same coffee temperature. This means that they had many chances to make necessary changes but they chose not to. This proves their neglect. The article, we Have to Accept Responsibility for our own Actions mentions “that verdict is only one of many that have been returned for millions of dollars- even when the plaintiffs have had some degree of negligence themselves.” This is a great point that consumers need to be a little more careful. I’m wondering if anyone in the case checked if McDonald’s at that time had preset temperatures on their coffee machines. How did the coffee reach those temperatures anyways? If the McDonald’s Co. is forced to serve their coffee at a maximum temperature then this is discrimination because they don’t enforce it on other coffee companies. As a barista, I have been trained to serve coffee at whatever temperature the customer requests. Even if it’s really hot. If a customer is burned from a temperature they request would they win in a similar suit?

This is always a controversial case.  Many people were outraged at the fact she received millions from the lawsuit because thinking that it was ok to place a hot cup of coffee between your legs in a car was not common sense.  But, you're right, there was some responsibility because McDonalds prepared the coffee much, much too hot to the point where it was beyond a hot drink, but rather dangerous for them to sell.  Even if she had just taken a sip, rather than placed it between her legs and spilled, it still would have burned her mouth.  McDonald's was ordered to pay the punitive damages as punishment for placing consumers in danger by not paying attention to their equipment and ensuring that it was preparing coffee at an acceptable temperate that was safe for human consumption

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