In 1992, a woman sued McDonald’s because her coffee was hot.

McDonald’s handbook had stated that coffee was supposed to be kept at 180-190 degrees Fahrenheit, which will cause burns if spilled on you. (CAOC.ORG)

The woman was in the passenger seat of a non moving vehicle, and burned herself when she took the lid off the coffee and spilled it on her lap.

We now have warnings on coffee cups that say something along the lines of

“Caution: Contents of this container may be HOT”

Cups made for hot beverages, bought/ordered by people buying a hot beverage, now contain a warning label.

Common sense.

Logic.

How do they play into the decision to both award damages and put a warning label on cups?

81 thoughts on “Anything Can Happen Friday: Common Sense

  1. This is why we have so much administration for schools, for covid protocols, for, trips, for entering certain locations or activities or events, for every little thing we do in life. The amount of redundant paperwork I have to fill out, in person or online, just for covering all the liability, is excessive and idiotic.

    I think Kramer in Seinfeld did something like this took, didn’t he? Or attempted? To sue someone and become a millionaire over something like hot coffee?

    The episode didn’t change things though. Now with the diseases, there’s even more caution to follow. I can’t for instance, use a bathroom stall next to another one because the sign says ‘for your safety, this stall is blocked’. Another caution. What if I were to break into that stall, use it, then 2 months later get sick. Will I be able to sue the facility with the bathroom and lose because I broke the rules and peed in the stall that clearly cautioned not to use it ‘for my safety’?

    Gotta do your social distancing even when you pee.

    Madness. (Sorry. I seem to be in a mood today.) 🙄

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m ok with moods!! In one myself. Ok…you know the COVID bathroom rule that kills me? The big sign outside the bathroom that starts that no more than 3 people are allowed in. How do you know how many people are in the bathroom!!!

      Liked by 3 people

  2. The coffee cup woman, Stella Liebeck, suffered third degree burns across 6% of her body and lesser burns across another 16% of her body thanks to the McDonald’s coffee. The franchise’s coffee machine was working improperly (it kept the coffee hotter than it was supposed to), but they never bothered to fix it. Liebeck needed skin grafts, spent weeks in the hospital, and was disfigured and disabled for a long time after that. McDonald’s refused to settle with her for a lesser amount, and so she sued to get the money for her medical bills.

    Now we have a million obvious warning labels so when a company is neglectful and their products malfunction, they can say, “Well, we warned you”.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Here’s my issue. I drink tea. Black tea, the one most commonly used in restaurants must be steeped at 212, or it’s not tea, it’s just brownish water. If I were to order a tea in a drive thru…what temp would they give it to me at? At what point do we think, maybe I shouldn’t open a hot beverage on my lap?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It would be at the standard 180-190, which would cause burns, but not to the degree that Liebeck received. That McDonald’s coffee maker was keeping the coffee closer to boiling– 30-40 degrees hotter than it was supposed to be. Had the franchise maintained their equipment properly, Liebeck would have been burned, yes, but not to the degree she was.

        Liked by 4 people

      2. True. But I don’t want my tea at 180 degrees. Assuming it’s boiling water, at the standard drive thru my tea should get to me and be 200 degrees. Anything less is not tea. So I either get a substandard drink or risk being burned. To say hot coffee might be hot is just, I don’t know…off. like don’t eat tide pods. Or put plastic bubble wrap in a crib with children

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      3. The warnings are there so companies can limit their own liability. They don’t want to get sued for their own negligence, so they slap a warning label on everything to say, “well, we warned you not to. It’snot our fault the product was defective”. That McDonald’s had repeatedly been warned about their coffee machine being too hot and the danger it posed, and they repeatedly did nothing. Stella Liebeck suffered the consequences for it.

        I have always wondered, if the injured person had been a 16 year old employee, would we consider it to be trivial, or is it just because it was an old lady?

        Liked by 4 people

      4. I didn’t know the plaintiffs age and I thought it was ridiculous. Personally, I think it would be more trivialized if it was an employee, because they probably go through so much safety stuff. While I agree that McDonald’s should have given her compensation, it’s like when my husband put the similar style cup of What’s up jus in the laptop bag. You have to assume that stuff like that has a high degree of being spilled. a

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Okay. So I did some checking on the Liebeck v. McDonald’s case, and I had some of the details wrong, but it’s a bigger than than I thought (and worse for poor Stella, who didn’t ask for debilitating injuries). Apparently before the Liebeck lawsuit, McDonald’s had been sued some 700 times for having coffee that was so hot it burned people badly (this was back before cars had cup holders, so everyone had their coffee over their lap). Instead of, you know, NOT overheating their coffee and keeping it at scalding temps to keep from burning people, McDonald’s said, “LOL, like whatevs, we don’t want to spend an extra little bit on coffee, so we’ll keep it too hot so it stays fresher longer”. So Liebeck wasn’t the only person burned by their coffee, and she didn’t get millions in the settlement. She suffered life-altering injuries, and then when McDonald’s wouldn’t settle, she took them to court.

        The podcast “You’re Wrong About” has an episode about the so-called frivolous lawsuits and how they’re baked into the American legal system. I’d include a link, but WordPress would probably see it as spam. Give it a listen. It’s eye-opening.

        Liked by 2 people

      6. I have no doubt McDonald’s did something wrong. But think of it like this…put a similar cup with lid between your legs in a car seat. See if you can get lid off without automatically squeezing your thighs together as you pull. It’s a recipe for disaster. Now imagine you’re 79 with not quite the same dexterity as someone younger. Mcds was at fault, however not really a common sense move.

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      7. No one is arguing that Liebeck didn’t spill the coffee. That’s not the point. The point is that McDonald’s kept their coffee at a temperature that was so hot that is caused third degree burns and disabled Liebeck for life. Before that, she had been an independent person living on her own. After she got out of the hospital, she wrote a letter to McDonald’s saying something like, “Yeah, I spilled the coffee on myself. I get that. But your coffee was super hot, and shouldn’t be served at that temperature. I was hospitalized because of your coffee’s temperature. Maybe think about serving your coffee at a lower temperature? Also, because your coffee burned me so badly, could you pay for my medical bills and back wages for my daughter, who had to take a lot of time off work to take care of me?”

        McDonald’s said, “LOL, no”, so Liebeck got a lawyer. The lawyer told McDonald’s, “Hey, this old lady got horribly burned by your coffee. Maybe pay her medical bills? If not, we’ll sue”.

        McDonald’s said, “LOL, no”, so the lawyer took the case to court. No one was arguing that the coffee wasn’t hot, or that Liebeck didn’t spill it on herself. But the judge and jury decided, after seeing the evidence (I’ve seen a photo of Liebeck’s burns, and they’re horrific), that McDonald’s owed damages for the burns their coffee inflicted on her. There was a reason for the court’s award, and it was not frivolous. She was disabled for the rest of her life, and a lawsuit was the only way for her to seek restitution from McDonald’s for her injuries.

        The point is not that Liebeck shouldn’t have opened the coffee in her lap.

        The point is that McDonald’s kept their coffee so hot that it caused life-altering injuries to this woman, and the following news reports barely mentioned how badly she was hurt. Stella Liebeck’s received horrific burns, and because she won a lawsuit, the court of public opinion decided she was a selfish and non-sensical, and has made her a punchline for nearly thirty years.

        Liked by 2 people

      8. Yeah. I understand everything you said. Large corporations suck. But when you have kids eating tide pods, and warning not to take medicine if you’re allergic to medicine, and people just trying to get out of liability, or people trying to make a quick buck (my father in law “fell” at my sister in laws house and she was afraid he was going to her…isn’t it amazing he happened to be taping his walk down her stairs?) I think all sides are greedy and no one wants to take responsibility. Sure, she’s a punch line, but the fact that we have contents may be hot is a testament the downfall of civilization. And it’s only going to get worse. And people who deserve compensation are not going to be able to afford good enough lawyers to combat all these lawsuits. I have a friend who is continually in small claims court…it’s gotten ridiculous

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      9. And I will add, the other day people were saying that it’s common sense to do X…but the problem is, what does common sense mean, and how common is it if people disagree on what it means. Like with this…I think it’s common sense not to put a hot beverage between my legs and try to open it with a not particularly study cup or lid. But others don’t agree with that opinion. Who is right and who is wrong

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  3. I remember reading about this case. If I’m understanding the part about the McDonald’s manual, then they knew beforehand about the coffee’s potential to burn at 190 F. It’s hard to believe the corporation didn’t print a warning on the cup before the lawsuit. It’s an accident waiting to happen. And it did. In answer to your larger question, it seems there are more warning labels on products than ever before. It makes sense. Why risk liability, especially when some people will sue just to make a buck? There are some labels where you just go “duh”. How could anyone be stupid enough to do that? But companies have good reason to protect themselves, especially now.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This McDonald lawsuit has bothered me for years. The greed of the person suing in the first place, our stupidity (yes I said stupidity) to allow a lawsuit like this to begin with and the insanity of giving her money in the end.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s crazy, but some people seem to lack common sense. That’s what I love about MacDonald’s coffee – it’s super hot – except it often isn’t when I order decaf and I can tell it’s been sitting there too long…..boohoo….

    Liked by 2 people

  6. This why I always say I am not a doctor!!!!!! This is what works for me and has worked for others but MAY NOT WORK FOR YOU. So lets get to know your body. And I still get well “will this work for me” or “you said this would work for me” Makes me want to naw my foot off! LOL

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow! A lot of judgemental thought going on here. (And I used to think this was frivolous too!) It would probably be helpful if people went back and read the case of the 79 year old woman who opened the coffee when her grandson pulled over to the side of the road so she could do that. She had multiple skin grafts in a very sensitive area and was hospitalized for several days and underwent several years of followup medical care. McDonald’s was not appropriately responsive to taking care of her medical needs. I think our society is too litigious, but sometimes arrogant big companies need to be reined in. The news media made fun of her–just to add insult to injury. I agree that many of the warning labels leave me shaking my head wondering what someone did to warrant that label. Sometimes though, the company, who is after all mainly concerned about their bottom line, needs to be held accountable. No blanket statement covers whether someone should or should not sue. And let’s don’t forget the role of the lawyers and their bottom line. As usual, you have brought up many big issues in this one post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The warning labels….like tater said…do not take this medicine if you’re allergic to this medicine…too many lAwsuits….too many ridiculous settlements….too many warnings to get past liability…I mean really…that detergent needs to carry a warning to not ingest?

      Liked by 1 person

    2. And I revert back to tea. If I order tea, I expect it to be about 200 degrees, assuming it’s made properly. I also don’t drive and don’t use drive thrus

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    3. She also put a hot cup of coffee between her legs and pulled the cover off. Realistically, I would never do that, because the risk of spilling is way over 50%. While McDonald’s did have an equipment issue making the coffee too hot, personally, as I would never put a hot, styrofoam or paper cup with an ill made lid in between my legs and then open it, I do have an issue on the common sense of it.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. People are so sue happy, drives me crazy! If they would stop awarding frivolous lawsuits maybe people would use a little more common sense!
    Warning on lawn mower. “Don’t use indoors!”
    On hair dryer “Don’t use while sleeping!? Really???

    Liked by 1 person

    1. While I understand McDonald’s was liable, my point is exactly that. Common sense says don’t put a hot beverage between your legs, whether or not the car was moving was of no matter…there is a greater than average sense of it spilling

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Now you have set me off on one, if people are that lacking in common sense as to think this is a hot cup of coffee, it will be hot, I had better take care, it’s there look out. Why should a company have to payout for what is blindly obvious. Hot anything is HOT. For me it’s up there with parents that leave their kids alone to play with toys with small parts, then complain, their child swallowed a part when playing with that toy.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Lack of common sense? You keep stating this in regards to this woman. Perhaps she was of the school of people that cool down their coffee by blowing on it before drinking it? You cannot do that with the lid still on those cups, perhaps she was a regular McDonald’s coffee drinker and this was part of her ritual. A ritual that in any normal circumstance, ie. the coffee machine heating properly, wouldn’t have put her in this predicament to begin with.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. She placed the cup between her legs and went to pull the lid off. Try doing that without squeezing your thighs together to “hold” the cup in place. To me it’s common sense to not do that. Ever. But that’s me. I think that’s common sense. Others dont

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      1. Again LA if it was before cup holders I get her reasoning…just as much as I understand yours, but it’s hard to press this issue without an ounce of compassion for someone who was badly burned, imagine how much worse it would’ve been had this woman taken a sip of the coffee. But in this age of just how much dumber the citizens are in regards to the multitude of rampant stupid decisions, warning labels are probably needed yet will continue to be ignored anyway.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Totally think she should have gotten damages. And I totally get compassion. But also think we have to take personal responsibility. Don’t pet the snarling dog. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t text as you cross the street. Look at the videos of people walking into things as they text. Do we show compassion as we share these videos and they go viral or do we say dumbass?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I’ve never laughed at shit like that, I used to hate that show Americas Funniest Home Videos for shit like that. I’m not one to share those videos, yeah as I said, humans appear to be getting dumber by the minute which is really sad.

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      4. The lady was 79. Growing old is not easy. I know a lot of people in their 70’s and older whose hands do not function like they used to. Arthritis, weak hands, shaky hands, etc. She probably put the cup between her legs to stabilize it. Remember, the grandson pulled over for her to open it. They were trying to do it right. Also, we are spoiled by the current generation of takeout cups. They have improved greatly since this happened. Lots of things to take into consideration with this case.

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      5. Here’s my issue. If you put a cup between your legs and go to open the top, you are going to squeeze your thighs together. Try it. Doesn’t matter how old you are. You should never attempt to open anything in a flexible cup by putting it between your legs. You are going to spill in more often than not.

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    2. My daughter had a middle school classmate who decided to jump from the roof of one brownstone to another and died in the attempt. I had a tremendous amount of compassion for the girl and her family, but I still thought to myself, why the Freak would she do that. You can simultaneously feel bad and still think someone was acted irresponsibly

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  11. I see people cite this case as a frivolous lawsuit because, on it’s surface, it sounds ridiculous. Coffee is hot. Everyone knows this. The fact is that this woman won the lawsuit because that specific restaurant kept their coffee well above the recommended temperatures, near boiling temps, making that coffee dangerously hot and unsafe, something they had been cited for in the past, but ignored because they didn’t want complaints of cold coffee. A normal temp coffee spilled in the lap would have resulted in frustration and maybe a little soreness from the spill, not life threatening burns that required the need for skin grafts. It is one thing to point out people’s lack of common sense, but it is another to inaccurately portray that lack. Yes, people do all kinds of really stupid things (as I have pointed out in the past) that result in us needing various warning labels that seem completely ridiculous. This case in particular isn’t one of them. It is actually a great example of how we very easily dismiss things as being ridiculous without having the full range of facts because the surface appears completely different than the whole.

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    1. While I feel compassion and think she deserved compensation, I think it’s a bonehead move to put a hot beverage in a paper cup with plastic lid between your legs, where you are automatically going to squeeze your legs, and then, with a certain amount of force, attempt to open the lid. It’s a hot beverage. Use caution. Always

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      1. Again, in a normal case, at worst, she would have gotten wet and maybe a light burn. She almost died. She didn’t even want to sue. She just wanted them to pay her medical bills, which they refused to do. Now, she is forever known as the greedy woman that sued McDonalds because she was stupid.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. McDonald’s was liable. And she was trying not to be an idiot. But how many people do ridiculously stupid things every single day, things they shouldn’t ever do. We’ve stopped thinking, about consequences. And we blame everybody for everything. How many people start out with “it wasn’t my fault” when something bad happens? How often do we sue other people? I have a friend who spends their life in small claims court. My father in law will sue anybody, anywhere at any time. And now that stupid things get recorded and passed around, no one will remember the women who started the warning hot coffee thing

        Liked by 1 person

    1. While I think McDonald’s screwed up and should pay medical bills, what’s getting lost is our ability to use common sense when doing things. I worry about the time that a company is truly negligent, but have learned to put so many disclaimers on things that they get off

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  12. In Vegas there are so many signs that should be common sense. For example at one buffet there is a sign at each checkout that tells pregnant women that alcohol may causes birth defects. Common sense or no? My favorite is the sign at the Hoover dam that tells people not to stand on the look out wall. Duh! Do you really want to fall 50 feet and go over the damn? Really…. I’m not trying to be mean but some people are stupid.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. What happened to commonsense? Hot coffee. Moving car. Taking lid off. I mean, seriously, it’s a dumb decision and that person’s responsibility. Which I think is the bigger underlying issue. People don’t want to take personal responsibility. So much easier to blame others. Next time…order an iced coffee. LOL

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Not really bothered whether the coffee was hotter than McDonalds guidelines – was it hotter than it would have been at home? I suspect the answer is no. So why was she surprised it was hot?

    AS for medical bills, if you live in a country that doesn’t provide health care, common sense dictates that you have plenty of insurance.

    If you aren’t insured against stupidity, then you pay the bills.

    Anyway, I blame the ambulance chasing lawyers . . .

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Bless. My coffee’s lid wasn’t secured properly the other day. It spilled all over me and my car when i took the cup. Luckily, I add enough cream that it’s lukewarm. My 15 year even knows the lawsuit story. He laughed and asked if I would sue. I said yea, maybe they’ll wash my car. 🙄. Much more important things to concern myself with than ruining that sweet girls day. 🤪

    Liked by 1 person

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