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Story Continued:

Further, McDonald's 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 McDonald's 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 McDonald's had no intention of reducing the "holding temperature" of its coffee.

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

McDonald's 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 third degree 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 McDonald's coffee sales.

Postverdict investigation found that the temperature of coffee at the local Albuquerque McDonald's 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 McDonald's conduct reckless, callous and willful. Subsequent to remittitur, the parties entered a postverdict settlement.

The attorney for Ms. Liebeck was Kenneth R. Wagner, Esq., Kenneth R Wagner & Associates, 500 Copper Avenue Northwest # 100, Albuquerque, NM 87102. voice: (505) 242-6300 fax: (505) 242-9268.
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