Decades After the Infamous ‘Hot Coffee’ Case, McDonald’s Is Being Sued Over Another Scalding Spill

In the early 1990s, Stella Liebeck ordered a fresh cup of coffee at a McDonald’s drive-thru in Albuquerque, N.M., and suffered third-degree burns. She sued the franchise and was awarded nearly $2.9 million in damages, roughly $5 million in present-day money. The case became a nationwide lightning rod for the debate around frivolous litigation. Nearly three decades after Liebeck settled her case, lawsuits over McDonald’s hot coffee are still reaching the courts. A mental health support worker has filed a claim against one of the chain’s locations in Burnaby, B.C., after being burned by hot coffee last year. The lawsuit alleges that McDonald’s served coffee at too high a temperature and didn’t warn Fung it would be “extremely hot.” The chain is also accused of negligence, claiming the restaurant served coffee at too high a temperature and didn’t train its employees well enough. McDonald’s has not filed a response to the claim in court.

In Liebeck’s case, some argued she was responsible because she shouldn’t have been balancing the coffee in the first place. Courts found McDonald’s carried the majority of liability for serving coffee that was too hot. A judge later reduced Liebeck’s award to $640,000 US. She required extensive skin grafts and surgery to treat burns covering 16% of her body. Other lawsuits centred on hot drinks have cropped up over the years, such as a woman in Surrey, B.C., who sued McDonald’s after a drive-thru spill in 2011, another woman losing a lawsuit against Starbucks over a cup of hot tea in Sechelt, B.C., in 2017, and a woman from Winnipeg who suffered second- and third-degree burns after an extra-large cup of Tim Hortons green tea spilled on her lap in 2013.

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