The McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case


The McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case




The McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case

The McDonald’s hot coffee case is one of the most referenced tort law cases and is classified as among the most frivolous lawsuits in the US. Stella Liebeck bought a cup of coffee at a McDonald’s drive-thru in Albuquerque (Consumer Attorneys of California, 1995). Mrs. Liebeck, who was seated at the passenger’s seat, spilled the coffee as she tried to open the cup to add cream and sugar and as a result suffered third-degree burns on her lap. After recovering from the series of skin grafts, she sued McDonald’s for serving dangerously hot coffee to its customers and was awarded nearly $3 million dollars in punitive damages by the jury but was granted $640,000 by the judge (Consumer Attorneys of California, 1995). The tort litigation has protected the consumer’s rights that are often violated by various businesses.

Tort laws were employed in Mrs. Liebeck’s case as suffering was unfairly caused to her accompanied by loss of income as a result of burns from coffee that the company knew was very hot. It was also evidenced by the numerous complaints presented by other customers. The jury was upset by McDonald’s failure to correct the faulty policy that caused harm to its clients and found the company liable for committing the tortious act. Moreover, the company was found responsible as it did not offer a valid explanation for failing to inform the consumers that the coffee was too hot to drink and could cause severe burns.

Tort law is very relevant to businesses and consumers as it sets the guidelines that govern the society and prevents one party from exploiting another. For the consumers, it ensures that they are not unfairly treated by negligent corporations either directly from the products offered or their byproducts (Baime, 2014). On the other hand, it ensures that the reputation of a business is protected from slanderous consumers seeking to make money. Tort law mainly protects the aggrieved party by allowing the shift of the burden from the plaintiffs as in most cases they are recompensed by money, an apology, or both.

Therefore, the McDonald’s hot coffee case is an accurate representation of the efficacy of tort law as it offered Mrs. Liebeck the compensation she was seeking. It also created a platform that ensured that McDonald’s changed its policy to avoid causing harm to other consumers. Moreover, tort law is important as it protects consumers and businesses by providing guidelines of how people should coexist.



Baime, E. (2014). Fundamentals of tort law. Retrieved from:

Consumer Attorneys of California (1995). The McDonald’s hot coffee case. Retrieved from:



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