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NEGLIGENCE: MCDONALD’S HOT COFFEE CASEMBA-610 – BUSINESS LAW
INTRODUCTION•McDonald’s not only represents the paradigm of fast food corporations, but also both positive and negative perspectives of American capitalism (Forell, 2011, pp. 105-106).•The first restaurant opened in 1954, but the first important tort suits were brought in the early 1990’s (p. 108).•Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants is considered a vital precedent for the American tort reform, especially because of its repercussion against personal injury law (p. 109), contrary to other historical influential cases, such as tort filings involving the tobacco industry, or the cases of massive asbestos exposure in the 1970’s (Aliprandini & Walter, 2013).
KEY FACTS•In the early 1990s, Stella Liebeck, 79 years old – ordered a cup of coffee at McDonald's•Mrs. Liebeck was a passenger in a car that was not moving•Mrs. Liebeck held the coffee in between her knees to add sugar and cream to it•The coffee spilled onto her lap•Mrs. Liebeck suffered 3rd degree burns on over 16% of her body.•Her skin was burned through to muscle and fatty tissue•Mrs. Liebeck was in the hospital for 8 days and then recovered at home for weeks following her hospital stay.•Mrs. Liebeck's injuries required skin grafts
KEY FACTS•McDonald's coffee policy – serving at a temperature of 180-190 degrees•At this temperature a liquid can cause 3rd degree burns•A McDonald's Quality Control manager testified that McDonald's knew the risk of dangerously hot coffee – company had no plans to turn down the heat or warn their customers of the danger•McDonald's had received multiple complaints prior to Mrs. Liebeck's complaint•The container the coffee was in had no warning label about the temperature of its contents
ASSUMED FACTS•Critics tend to think contributory negligence on Liebeck as she spilled the coffee into her lap when the cup was in her control as she sat in the passenger seat of her grandson's car in the parking lot•The fact that Liebeck precariously placed the cup between her knees certainly suggests contributory negligence•The lid was properly fit on the cup when it was handed to the customer•Mrs. Liebeck was aware the coffee was hot, as she did not ask for it cold.•No warning label made it unclear as to how hot the coffee was, allowing for Mrs. Liebeck to assume the coffee could be consumed immediately.
ASSUMED FACTS CONT.•Mrs. Liebeck was given creamer to put in the coffee by the attendant. •McDonalds expected her to remove the lid and add the creamer.•McDonald's stated that they believed their customers consume coffee at a later point, not immediately.