Newspapers and social media sites have been buzzing about a lawsuit which was recently filed in New Jersey which is drawing comparison to the “Hot Coffee” case of 1994. In the case which was just filed in New Jersey state court, the Plaintiff, Jennifer Fragoso, is claiming that Dunkin’ Donuts served a product which was too hot for consumption, and as she was parked in the parking lot, the lid to her hot cider came loose, causing the hot cider to spill on her, resulting in second and third degree burns.

Unfortunately, judging by a lot of the comments this story has generated, many people have already made up their minds that this is a “frivolous” case. This is most likely because insurance companies have embarked on a campaign to use the “Hot Coffee” case as a reason as to why we need Tort Reform. However, they have distorted the facts in order to advance their agenda, so here are the real facts that you may not have known about the “Hot Coffee” case.

  • Stella Liebeck (79 years old) was a passenger, in a car parked, when she placed the coffee between her legs.
  • When Stella first contacted McDonalds, it wasn’t about the money- she just wanted her medical bills (over $10,000) paid. McDonalds refused.
  • McDonalds served its coffee 10 degrees hotter than it should have- even though it knew it was too hot and was burning people! (FYI McDonalds continued to serve its coffee excessively hot until after the trial)
  • McDonalds had ignored 700 earlier complaints about excessively hot drinks!
  • Stella Liebeck was in the hospital for a week while doctors treated her third-degree burns and they feared she would not survive. (The photos are so graphic, that I don’t want to link to them, but you can easily find them by doing a Google Search).
  • The jury awarded Stella $200,000 in compensatory damages in the trial against McDonalds
  • The jury was so offended that McDonalds knew they were selling a product which was too hot, and therefore too dangerous, and wanted to send a message so they awarded $2.7 in punitive damages (which represented only 2 days of sales of McDonalds’ coffee nationwide at the time)
  • The judge reduced the total award (compensatory and punitive) to $640,000, as he found it excessive.
  • The parties settled out of court for less than $500,000. 

So, whenever someone mentions “Hot Coffee” and “Tort Reform” in the same sentence, you should ask them… have you seen the photos of Stella Liebeck?