Stella Liebeck, an elderly grandmother, received third-degree burns when she spilled coffee purchased at a McDonald’s drive-through. At trial, experts testified that McDonald’s coffee was too hot to be consumed at the point of purchase, was hotter than any other restaurant’s coffee or coffee brewed at home, and was so hot that third-degree burns would result within three to five seconds of coming into contact with the skin. McDonald’s also conceded that the coffee was brewed extremely hot for commercial (profit) reasons, because most customers wanted coffee to be hot throughout their commute. After finding the company liable, the jury awarded Mrs. Liebeck two days’ worth of coffee sales at McDonald’s, an amount equivalent to $2.7 million, in punitive damages. The award, although reduced to much less than that, set off a firestorm of criticism that has not died down to this day.
Prompt: Do you believe that it’s possible for coffee to be unreasonably dangerous, or is this case an example of our legal system going too far? Watch the short video below for one filmmaker’s perspective on this case.