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The infamous McDonald's hot coffee case: Who sides with Stella?

If only Stella's morning was as idyllic as the one in this picture...


Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants

Originally posted on Dec. 14, as of today this CollegeHumor YouTube clip has 1.14 million views, roughly 40,000 thumbs up, and 932 thumbs down. It's captioned: Only a clown would serve coffee heated to 190 degrees(!). The clip profiles the infamous McDonald's hot coffee case, in which a customer spilled coffee and suffered third-degree burns.

Then she sued McDonald's for it and won, prompting critics to cast the legal system as distorted and out of control, and personal injury lawyers as parasitic villains.

The clip opens on a courtroom scene. A woman, facing criminal charges and worried about her future: "They throw innocent people in jail while some old lady who spills hot coffee on herself gets a million bucks." The narrator, in reply, says, "Ah, yes, the famous McDonald's hot coffee lawsuit. That case was terrible, but not for the reason you think. In fact, everything you've heard about it is wrong."

CollegeHumor Debunks Our Wayward Assumptions

The narrator goes on to debunk all the things we've come to believe about a lawsuit in which a woman (Stella Liebeck) spills hot coffee on herself and sues:

  • Contrary to prevailing assumption, Stella wasn't driving at the time she spilled the coffee; in fact, she was parked, and her grandson was in the driver's seat.
  • Stella freely admitted to spilling her coffee, that it was her mistake (again, contrary to the prevailing assumption that she disclaimed responsibility for spilling coffee on herself).
  • Stella sued not to "get rich," but to help pay for her medical bills (yet another assumption that Stella was just another greedy plaintiff).

Stella's injuries included third-degree burns on her legs and genitals, shock, and painful skin-graft operations - all because McDonald's unnecessarily served its coffee at 190 degrees.

Thumbs Up or Down? Do You Side with Stella?

Presumably, the 932 thumbs down (or dislikes) are by many of those critics, who refuse to side with the "old lady" who spilled coffee on herself and sued McDonald's to pay for her medical bills and near-death experience.

Watch the video below and decide for yourself.

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