Two more hot coffee lawsuit data points

Add the Stony Brook University Hospital cafeteria to the list of servers unsuccessfully sued over burns caused by hot coffee. If you recall, the theory of the McDonald’s coffee case (and repeated by such trial lawyer defenders as congressional candidate Bruce Braley) was that McDonald’s, and only McDonald’s, served coffee so hot as to burn. For some reason, the reporter for the New York Law Journal tries to leave the reader with the impression that the original Stella Liebeck case was justifiable (though that opinion is irrelevant to the article itself) which shows how successful trial lawyer propaganda has been within the legal community and press. (John Caher, “N.Y. Judge Cool to Injury Claims Over Spilled Coffee”, New York Law Journal, Nov. 2). We earlier listed other hot coffee lawsuit defendants.

Speaking of which, you may recall the Russian McDonald’s coffee case litigation that we covered a year ago, with identical allegations from a woman who spilled coffee on herself; the press is reporting that the plaintiff has dropped her case. As in the Stella Liebeck case, the Russian McDonald’s had a warning on the coffee cup that the contents were hot. (“Moscow McDonald’s coffee-spill case closed”, RIA Novosti, 1 Nov.).


  • Was the Stella Liebeck case simply badly defended?

  • I believe there’s an argument to be made that the case could have been defended better at trial.

    BUT it should never have been tried at all. McDonald’s should have won on summary judgment. The judge’s refusal to throw out the claim is the real error here.

  • marm,

    There is a whole page (or 2, or 3) dedicatd to that case, just here on Overlawyered, but there were several issues with that case, starting with it not being thrown out, as it obviously should have.

    In summary, the deciding reasoning for the jurors turned out to be 1) the McDonald’s execs came across as uncaring, and 2) the misunderstood “statistically insignificant” to mean “we don’t care if people get hurt” instead of what it really means (“people who managed to injure themselves with our product are incredibly rare”).

    You can make your own decisions about if that means it was “badly defended” or not… prsonally, I think it was one of those “perfect storm” kind of things (or perhaps “comedy of errors” would b a better phrases…).