McDonalds coffee case and the hot coffee lawsuit, was a 1994 product liability lawsuit that became a flashpoint in the debate in the United States over tort reform. A New Mexico civil jury awarded $2.86 million to plaintiff Stella Liebeck, a 79-year-old woman who suffered third-degree burns in her pelvic region when she accidentally spilled hot coffee in her lap after purchasing it from a McDonald’s restaurant. Liebeck was hospitalized for eight days while she underwent skin grafting, followed by two years of medical treatment.
Liebeck’s attorneys argued that at 180–190 °F (82–88 °C) McDonald’s coffee was defective, claiming it was too hot and more likely to cause serious injury than coffee served at any other establishment. McDonald’s had refused several prior opportunities to settle for less than what the jury ultimately awarded. The jury damages included $160,000 to cover medical expenses and compensatory damages and $2.7 million in punitive damages. The trial judge reduced the final verdict to $640,000, and the parties settled for a confidential amount before an appeal was decided.
The case was said by some to be an example of frivolous litigation; ABC News called the case “the poster child of excessive lawsuits”, while the legal scholar Jonathan Turley argued that the claim was “a meaningful and worthy lawsuit”. In June 2011, HBO premiered Hot Coffee, a documentary that discussed in depth how the Liebeck case has centered in debates on tort reform