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The True Story of the McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case

Ask anyone on the street about the definition of a “frivolous” lawsuit and one case comes to everyone’s mind:  The McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case.  Then, ask the same person about the facts of the case and they’ll inevitably say that it is about the lady who spilled hot coffee in her lap while driving and got millions of dollars in return.  The truth, however, is far from the story that has been the butt of so many jokes for so long.  In fact, the woman, Stella Liebeck, was not driving, she was in a parked car operated by her nephew; the coffee was so hot (180 – 190 degrees) that she received third-degree burns requiring skin grafting and surgery; she remained in the hospital for eight days; Ms. Liebeck attempted to settle with McDonald’s prior to trial for the amount of her medical bills; the judge drastically reduced the size of the jury’s verdict; then the parties settled for an undisclosed amount.

Now, a lawyer-turned-filmmaker, Susan Saladoff, has brought Ms. Liebeck’s true story in a new documentary called Hot Coffee, which premiered at the Sundance International Film Festival.  In the film, the story of what really happened to Ms. Liebeck is explained as opposed to the gross mischaracterization we have become accustomed to hearing about.
In fact, the movie takes aim at US Chamber of Commerce and the Tort Reform Movement efforts to try to deny average citizens’ access to justice and courts.  The movie also documents the costs of Tort Reform to taxpayers with an emphasis on medical malpractice liability caps.

The truth is that the “McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case” has been the greatest form of free advertising to the insurance industry and Tort Reformers.  How many injured victims and families have been denied justice or been the recipients of low verdicts because jurors have been plagued with the idea that this case is just another frivolous case like the “McDonald’s” case?  How many billions of have insurance companies saved as a result of the misinformation spread about this case?
So, the next time someone brings up the “McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case”, tell them the truth.
For more information about Hot Coffee go to

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