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LAW OFFICES OF
GORDON A. GLENN
PO BOX 12785
LA JOLLA, CA 92039-2785
TEL: (858) 997-6415
FAX: (858) 997-2111
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Courtesy of the Consumers Attorneys of California:

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

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 McDonald's refused.

During discovery, McDonald's 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 McDonald's knowledge about the extent and nature of this hazard.

McDonald's 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.
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