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Woman Burned By Hot McDonald’s Coffee Gets $2.9 Million

August 19, 1994 GMT

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) _ A woman who was scalded when her McDonald’s coffee spilled won a jury award of nearly $2.9 million - or about two days’ coffee sales for the fast-food chain.

Lawyers for Stella Liebeck, who suffered third-degree burns in the 1992 incident, contended that McDonald’s coffee was too hot.

A state district court jury imposed $2.7 million in punitive damages and $160,000 in compensatory damages Wednesday.

Ken Wagner, one of Liebeck’s attorneys, said that he had asked the jury for punitive damages equal to two days’ worth of McDonald’s coffee sales, which he estimated at $1.34 million a day.

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Testimony indicated McDonald’s coffee is served at 180-190 degrees, based on advice from a coffee consultant who has said it tastes best that hot, Wagner said Thursday.

The lawsuit contended Liebeck’s coffee was 165-170 degrees when it spilled. In contrast, he said, coffee brewed at home is generally 135-140 degrees.

He said McDonald’s expressed no willingness during the trial to turn down the heat or print a warning.

Defense attorney Tracy McGee said the company will appeal. McGee also said the jury was ″concerned about an industrywide practice″ of selling hot coffee.

Juror Richard Anglada confirmed the jury was trying to deliver a message to the industry. ″The coffee’s too hot out there. This happened to be McDonald’s,″ Anglada said Wednesday.

Liebeck’s lead counsel, Reed Morgan of Houston, said there have been several lawsuits nationally over the temperature of McDonald’s coffee but that he believes the Liebeck case was the first to reach the verdict stage. A California case was settled out of court for $235,000, he said.

He said the woman’s medical bills totaled nearly $10,000.

According to testimony, Liebeck was a passenger in a car driven by her grandson outside a McDonald’s in southeast Albuquerque when she was burned by a cup of coffee purchased at a drive-through window.

The jury found, among other things, that the coffee was defective and that McDonald’s engaged in conduct justifying the punitive damages.