The Wall Street Journal article “McDonald’s Callousness Was Real Issue, Jurors Say, In Case of Burned Woman” sheds some much-needed light on the McDonald’s coffee case.
When a law firm here found itself defending McDonald’s Corp. in a suit last year that claimed the company served dangerously hot coffee, it hired a law student to take temperatures at other local restaurants for comparison.
After dutifully slipping a thermometer into steaming cups and mugs all over the city, Danny Jarrett found that none came closer than about 20 degrees to the temperature at which McDonald’s coffee is poured, about 180 degrees.
Despite these findings, McDonald’s refused to settle out of court. Apparently, they didn’t think a jury would “punish a company for serving coffee the way customers like it.” And at first, that’s how jurists felt. Then they learned the facts.
What the jury didn’t realize initially was the severity of her burns. Told during the trial of Mrs. Liebeck’s seven days in the hospital and her skin grafts, and shown gruesome photographs, jurors began taking the matter more seriously. “It made me come home and tell my wife and daughters don’t drink coffee in the car, at least not hot,” says juror Jack Elliott.
Even more eye-opening was the revelation that McDonald’s had seen such injuries many times before. Company documents showed that in the past decade McDonald’s had received at least 700 reports of coffee burns ranging from mild to third degree, and had settled claims arising from scalding injuries for more than $500,000.