Talking About The Famous McDonalds Hot Coffee Lawsuit

Joe: 106.7, WIZN, Joan Jett, “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Heard Kansas before that. Joe Vega here with you on your Wednesday rock and ride home. I was hanging out with my friend Ben Barry from Martin, Harding & Mazzotti this past weekend, and we were talking about this famous McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit. And so I wanted to bring Ben on the air here to talk about that. Ben, how are you doing?

Ben: Doing well, Joey. How are you?

Joe: Doing good. So we were talking this past weekend and we were drinking coffee, if you remember, and we were talking about that famous McDonald’s lawsuit that everybody hears about, the frivolous lawsuit where the person is taking advantage of the big company, because the coffee was “too hot.” And you were telling me some interesting things, so I wanted to share that.

Ben: Yeah, sure. I think the first thing that I had mentioned was that I felt… I have a great respect for this particular case, not because of the position that McDonald’s took, but because of the fight and the plaintiff, Ms. Liebeck, who was burned very, very significantly by coffee that was being brewed at a very high temperature. And the case is a case that I love, but it’s also a case that I hate, because of the way that it has been portrayed in the media over the years, and a lot of people, kind of, associate frivolous lawsuits, particularly personal injury lawsuits, with the McDonald’s case as sort of the poster child for undeserving awards by people who allege to have been injured by products.

And that’s the case. This elderly woman was extremely burned by a cup of coffee. She was awarded damages by a jury. That jury also awarded punitive damages, two million or so. And subsequently, the judge, kind of, knocked that judgment down, and the woman ultimately didn’t make out with all that much money. But the importance of that particular case, one, is it’s a great, big glowing case for personal injury lawyers and products liability lawyers. But also, it does go to show, kind of, what has happened in the public’s mindset with respect to lawsuits, and actually fighting for what I think are just damages when someone’s been injured, whether it be by McDonald’s or some negligent driver, or some other person doing wrong, or some other corporation doing wrong, or being negligent. Ms. Liebeck was just the person that went to court and had a jury decide the amount of damages and who was responsible for what.

Now also, the jury didn’t just say McDonald’s was bad. They also said, “Look, Ms. Liebeck is responsible as well.” They actually used the theory of comparative negligence to say, “Look, we think McDonald’s is 80% responsible here. Ms. Liebeck is 20% responsible.”

Joe: That’s the part that I found really interesting was that there was an actual percentage put on who was responsible for what.

Ben: Yeah, and that comparative negligence, as it’s called, is often applied to several cases with personal injury, particularly slip and falls, but also in these product liability cases, where Ms. Liebeck probably should have done something differently when she was opening up the cup of coffee. But McDonald’s really should have been doing something different with respect to the type of cup, the warnings, and also the brewing temperature as well.

Joe: All right. There it is. Thanks a lot, Ben. Ben Barry from Martin, Harding & Mazzotti.

Ben: Thank you, Joey. Talk to you soon.

Joe: You can call Martin, Harding & Mazzotti on 1-800-LAW-1010, or go online to All right, I’m outta here, but don’t worry. The classic rock will continue. Mettalica, the Eagles, and AC/DC next.