Hot Liquid Burns and Personal Injury Lawsuits

Personal Injury Guides

Hot Liquid Burns and Personal Injury Lawsuits

One of the most famous personal injury lawsuits ever is Liebeck’s vs. McDonald’s Restaurants. In this case, a 79-year-old woman named Stella Liebeck sued McDonald’s after being seriously scalded by hot coffee that she purchased from a McDonald’s drive-thru. This case is still talked about for a number of reasons. It’s an important case in legal history as it prompted a controversial debate around the concept of tort reform; in pop culture it came to be representative of what was commonly seen as an overly litigative society full of frivolous lawsuits.

However, in reality, the incident that prompted Liebeck’s vs. McDonald’s Restaurants was quite serious and traumatic for the victim. Incidents of hot liquid burning (particularly at restaurants and drive-throughs) remain a serious issue today and are still occasionally the cause of lawsuits.

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Suing over spilled coffee

Have you recently suffered a serious scald injury? In this article we’ll cover how to sue a company over such an incident, and look at the litigative process as it played out for Stella Liebeck.

The potential for injury from hot liquid spills should not be discounted. In Stella Liebeck’s case, she suffered severe third-degree burns over six percent of her body; 16 percent had second degree burns. She spent days in the hospital for skin grafting and was partially disabled for another two years. If you’ve been seriously burned by a hot liquid, it’s a serious issue and you should consult a lawyer to file your own lawsuits.

As with all personal injury cases, a scalding injury lawsuit will involve determining whether the defendant could be held negligent. Accidents happen, and people are expected to take reasonable cautions when they are knowingly in the presence of a hot liquid. But if the temperature of the liquid is found to be excessively hot, determined to be improperly stored or sufficient warning labels were not posted, the business could be held liable. If liability is determined, the plaintiff can sue for damages to cover their medical bills, lost income and emotional distress.

Liebeck vs McDonald’s Restaurants

The heart of the legal question in Liebeck vs. McDonald’s Restaurants was whether the hot drink was at an unreasonable temperature that could be generally considered excessively hot and unnecessarily dangerous. The coffee that burned Liebeck was between 180 and 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Lawyers argued that competitors kept their coffee cooler, and that the heat was excessive. In turn, McDonald’s countered that their drive-thrus supplied customers on long commutes who expected their coffee to stay hot for a long time, and thus the high temperatures were reasonable and necessary.

After a protracted litigation examining customers’ coffee habits, competing restaurants’ coffee temperatures and the presence of warning labels (which Liebeck’s cup did have; her legal team argued that the warnings were too small), the jury held McDonald’s 80% at blame, with Liebeck taking 20% of the fault.

This concept of shared blame is legally known as comparative negligence, and can be applied in situations like this in which both parties can be held partially at fault.

Burned By Hot Liquid?

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