Product Liability for McDonald’s

Product liability involves any product or item that is given or sold by a company but has a risk in harming the consumer. For instance, this case is of the product coffee that was sold to a customer but went further to bring adverse results. The organization or company that is responsible for the item is required to cater for all damages that are incurred. In this case, McDonald’s was supposed to accept the offer that was given by the attorney and mediator. The fact that they declined the negotiation prompted an extra step in jurisdiction (Owen, 2000). Here, they had to cater for all the expenses that Mrs. Liebeck had.

McDonald’s company is famous for its fast foods and unique brand of products. It serves a wide region and has its reputation in many nations, thus can be considered as an international restaurant. Among the products they offer is coffee, burgers and French fries. It is convenient when coffee is served at high temperatures but for this restaurant their coffee was exceptionally hot.

Product Liability for McDonald’s Restaurant

The case that involved Liebeck and McDonald’s restaurants is the case that is considered for products liability for this paper. The case was commonly referred to as the McDonald’s coffee case. It is considered as the most famous liability lawsuit, this became a flashpoint for the United States of America debate reform (Owen, 2005). This is after the panel of jury went in favor of the complainant thus giving them a compensation for their troubles. The compensation was an amount of one hundred and sixty four thousand dollars to cover expenses that involved medication. There was an additional amount of 2.7 million dollars that was for other punitive damages. The complainant, Mrs. Stella Liebeck was given the money after she was seen to have suffered third degree burns.

She had bought coffee in one of the McDonald’s branches but got burnt around her pubic area. The coffee poured on her lap after she had requested one of the waiters to bring it to her table. McDonald’s is one of the most popular joints in the United States of America and around the world that serves fast foods with great quality.

The judge who was given this case managed to reduce his final decision, the matter was handled by a group of judges. Initially, the amount that was paid by the defendant was kept confidential. The case pulled a lot of criticisms as many reacted with mixed feelings to the issue. For instance, the case was named a poster child that was characterized by excessive lawsuits. The importance of this case was not a huge thing for all individuals in America. Others called it a mere wastage of time while others thought it to be worthy and appropriate.

The legal theories that were used in this case by the plaintiff were that the coffee in McDonald’s is addictive and very hot. It was said to be hotter than the coffee that is normally offered by other places. The claim did not meet easy reception as McDonald’s were quite reluctant in settling their charges. They finally paid a cumulative amount of six hundred and forty thousand dollars.

Those individuals who supported tort reform claimed that the perception of the case was fully and materially right. The restaurant was supposed to take up the amount that was to be fined without any further steps. In the court scenario, the case was almost being dismissed due to past records on such matters. This was intended to by the court that did not realize the need for a jury as they had past experiences with the matter. McDonald’s did not accept to pay the amount that was to be compensated to Mrs. Liebeck, they were reluctant to settle eight hundred dollars.

McDoanld’s claimed that Mrs. Lebeck was careless and the problem lies with her and not the restaurant. They did not want to consider the possibility of any involvement in the incidence. They retell the incident claiming that the 79 year old Mrs. Liebeck walked in to the Restaurant and order for a cup of coffee that went for forty nine cents. The specific restaurant in this case was the McDonald’s located at 5001 Gibson Boulevard Street (Owen, 2000). The whole account was said to have happened on the 27th of February in 1992.

The victim was seated with her grandson on the passenger’s side of the vehicle. They had made a stop as Mrs. Liebeck wanted to add some additives that she likes to her coffee which was between her knees. As she was opening the lid of her coffee cup, it spilled on her laps. At this time she was wearing her cotton sweatpants, these pants absorbed the coffee that burnt her groin, thighs, buttocks and the pelvic skin. Her grandson, Chris had to take her to hospital for immediate medical attention.

The doctors gave information that showed the extent of her situation. She had incurred third degree burns on almost six percent of her skin and other burns that gave sixteen percent of the body (Owen, 2005). She had to be admitted to hospital due to the severity of the incident. In hospital, she had to be taken for skin grafting for a period of eight days. As she was undergoing treatment in hospital, she lost over twenty pounds from the burs that she incurred.

Mrs. Liebeck had to be taken for medication that went for about two years. She tried settling with McDonald’s for a total of twenty thousand dollars. This was the amount that she had been given as her anticipated medical expense. In her past expenses she had an amount of over ten thousand five hundred but the total figure was almost eighteen thousand dollars. This was inclusive of all the processes that were conducted on her in treatment.

McDonald’s did not want to settle the amount for Mrs. Liebeck. They only paid eight hundred dollars; this was quite insufficient for the process. It was this action that prompted Mrs. Liebeck to seek jurisdiction (Minnesota Institute of Legal Education, 2000). She went for an attorney from Texas by the name- Mr. Morgan Reed. The lawyers that worked towards the establishing compensation for her filled their suit in New Mexico’s Court. The accusation was that McDonald’s sold coffee to its customers that were very dangerous to them. They went forward to claim that the coffee was defectively manufactured. Mr. Reed suggested that McDonald’s pay up a total of ninety thousand dollars, but they declined the offer.

The point was that they decline all the offers that were being launched at them. Before this case went further for trial, the attorney gave a figure of three hundred thousand dollars. This amount was reduced to 225, 000 dollars by a mediator. The nature of McDonalds being stubborn and reluctant to negotiate before any court proceedings made them incur heavily.

Changes in McDonald’s

For the company, McDonald’s, changes have been made so that there is an increased safety for the customers and those individuals using their products.  For instance, coffee was later changed to be given at temperatures of about 82 degrees Celsius. This is a counter for any future cases of body burns form hot coffee. The fact that the company had to pay a very high amount of money made the impact and mark thus more safety (Owen, 2000). This explains why they were first reluctant to compensate Mrs. Liebeck.

Changing the risks that run in the organization is critical as it determines any future cases of liability. For example, when McDonald changed their temperature for coffee, they reduced on the risk of body burns by their customers. It is not realistic that they serve cold or lower temperatures of coffee, but the reduction is appropriate.

The proposed theory for the plaintiff was that the temperatures were very high for that product. It is claimed that this temperature is actually harmful to the customers themselves. This is the reason for the serious burns that Mrs. Liebeck suffered after she spilled coffee on her sweatpants. It was considered by the plaintiff that if the coffee had lower temperatures then the victim would not have been seriously burnt. Having third degree burns in the pubic area and groin region was a huge accident for Mrs. Liebeck.

Another proposal was that the cups were sealed too tight. This came from the point of having to use a lot of force while opening the lids. Mrs. Liebeck had to strain while opening her lid thus spilling the coffee on her groin area (Owen, 2005). The cups have been sealed in a better way in order to avoid future accidents that would render the company liable.

These changes are a huge step that demands the attention of the company. Before the product is changed in the market, it has to go through several processes that would determine the suitability of the products. After the court system has ensured that the case is valid and had settled the argument, the company has to follow through so that it can develop changes.


For the products that are sold by organizations or companies, their safety to the consumer is very crucial. They are ideally intended to be secure from any harm that is directed to the customer. For the case of McDonald’s, it had to pay huge amounts for the accident that occurred from coffee burns. After the case was left to the Hands of the court, Mrs. Liebeck was given compensations for the treatment she received. This is an example of a case that involves a single customer and a company. Such cases usually end up on the side of the inferior party as favor is sought from this side. Mrs. Liebeck, in spite of her serious burns received reasonable compensations that came from the company.

Coffee temperatures were said to be the reason behind the burns and the penalty was paid by the company itself. McDonald’s blamed the accident on the carelessness of the customer as they saw no point in taking responsibility of the situation.


In the event that a company faces court proceedings for any liability in products and their safety, the customers are usually for the aim of receiving compensation. It is wise that before any case is taken up by the court, negotiations should be conducted first. For instance, when the attorneys suggested the company to pay 300,000 dollars for the whole event, they declined the offer and went further to pay more. Consider a situation whereby the case would have been resolved by the compliant and negotiator; no changes would have been made.  This is because the victim only intended for the compensation through medical expenses and not the entire change of products’ specification.

After the case reached the court, the product’s temperature had to be altered. This process is more expensive and involving than paying the victim for all the damages. The decision that was taken for changing the temperature is not ideal. This is because the product was initially served with high temperatures for many customers and the accidents were insignificant. Altering the temperatures does not affect the liability of the product.

The best solution to such cases would be an entire redesign and reconstruction of the item. For instance, instead of using tightly sealed cups, the company could use other containers that reduce of spilling of the cup’s content. This would be a long and involving procedure but one that is necessary in the effort of reducing future lawsuits.

It is convenient that companies like McDonald have their own panel of attorneys that work to defend the policies and practices that have long-existed. Having their heritage taken away by one event is not practical. This body would ensure that the organization does not suffer irrelevant expenses in compensations that come from accidents.

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