McDonald's does not want the general public to know the truth behind the lawsuit Stella Liebeck filed against them. The truth would result in public outrage and a reduction in McDonald's booming business.
Stella Liebeck of Alberquerque, New Mexico
According to the Center for Justice and Democracy, the following are the real facts of Stella Liebeck's case:
- Stella Liebeck was 79 years old at the time of the accident.
- She made $5,000 per year working as store clerk.
- She was sitting in the passenger side bucket seat of her grandson's car at the time of the accident.
- She was wearing sweat pants; this is important.
- They used the drive-through window to purchase a cup of coffee for Ms. Liebeck.
- Chris, her grandson, pulled over and parked so Ms. Liebeck could add cream and sugar to her coffee.
- She had trouble removing the lid from the Styrofoam cup.
- She placed the styrofoam cup of coffee between her legs to hold it steady while she removed the lid.
- She accidentally spilled the coffee.
Many people who make fun of this case say that the victim was driving and trying to put cream and sugar in the coffee at the time of the spill. This is just one of the many fictions that McDonald's wants the public to believe. The real story of Ms. Liebeck's injuries is a testament to the need for consumers to stand up to corporations.
When Hot Coffee is Too Hot Coffee
Nobody wants a nice cup of hot coffee to be lukewarm. McDonald's corporate specifications are to serve the coffee at 185 degrees F, give or take five degrees. McDonald's also admitted in open court that a beverage at that temperature is unfit for human consumption because it will scald flesh.
A hot beverage fit for human consumption cannot be over 135 degrees F.
Scalding and Third Degree Burns
In cooking, to scald means to bring to just below the boiling point. So, imagine having boiling water dumped in your lap.
Scalding causes third-degree burns. Third degree burns are the absolute worst a person can suffer; they cause all layers of the skin to be eaten away by the source of heat. The only way to treat third degree burns is with skin grafts: razing skin from one part of the body to sew it over the place where all skin was burned away. Skin grafting is painful and disfiguring.
This is where Ms. Liebeck's sweat pants become important. 185 degree liquid will scald, or cause third degree burns, within a couple of seconds of touching flesh. It took Ms. Liebeck about 30 seconds to remove her sweat pants that were soaked with burning liquid, all while screaming in severe pain.
Ms. Liebeck suffered third degree burns and required skin grafting on her thighs, behind, and most private and sensitive parts of her body.
Over 700 People Burned
Not only does McDonald's want people to believe that serving too hot coffee is a nice thing because it won't cool down quickly, before Ms. Liebeck's accident the problem was already known to McDonald's.
Records indicate that McDonald's was aware of over 700 complaints of severe burns due to spilled coffee, but refused to do anything about it. McDonald's behavior is reckless, callous, and willful. They continue to be so to this day.
Litigation and Financial Awards for Plaintiff Damages
Ms. Liebeck's surgeon testified in open court that her injuries were the worst case of third degree burns he had ever seen.
Ms. Liebeck's medical bills far exceeded her annual income. At some point after her award was reduced to $450,000, Ms. Liebeck and McDonald's entered into a secret agreement which included a gag order on the Ms. Liebeck and her family. In return for their silence, the legal ordeal was over and an undisclosed amount of money paid to the Liebecks by McDonald's.
This left McDonald's free to tell lies and get the public riled up over "frivolous" lawsuits.
The real problem with the gag order is that McDonald's is free to influence public opinion while Ms. Liebeck and her family are not. By turning Ms. Liebeck into a stooge in the public's eye, McDonald's makes its future burn victims less likely to stand up for themselves for fear of public ridicule.
Consumer Attorneys of California have expressed the opinion that secret settlements of otherwise public cases should not be condoned. Certainly, if Ms. Liebeck were allowed to speak, the public would have a chance to understand how she was wronged and that it can happen to them. As it stands, many burn victims seem to remain mute.