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High Profile Tort Case: Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants

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Presentation on theme: "High Profile Tort Case: Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants"— Presentation transcript:

1 High Profile Tort Case: Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants
The plaintiff filed a complaint against the defendant alleging negligence. The case went to trial where a judgment was handed down. This verdict set off a firestorm of concerns about frivolous cases. My assessment of this case is based on the events that have happened in the years since this case was brought to trial.

2 Assessment Based on the research of the case, Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants, it is my belief that the verdict was correct. McDonald’s exhibited gross negligence in maintaining the temperature of their coffee at 180◦ which is considered scalding. However, the amount of the award was excessively high. The plaintiff’s medical and law bills should have been covered and then a compensatory amount should have been offered, but the high award amount encouraged other toxic torts and began one of the most litigious decades in American history. With that being said, this case was a wake up call for corporate America. No more could large corporations institute policies and procedures without considering the ramifications of their decisions. Additionally, we in the education field, began to scrutinize policies and procedures that might make us susceptible to legal action, i.e. paddling, restraining students in a physical manner, isolation or humiliation of students. The re-evaluation of these practices brought to light how outdated the education system was when it came to the rights of students. back

3 Stella Liebeck Stella Liebeck (1913-2004)
Place of residence – Albuquerque, New Mexico Date of event - February 27, 1992 Age at time of event - 79 back

4 Frivolous - legal claim resulting in damages that greatly exceed expectations based on the facts of the case back

5 McDonald’s Corporation
McDonald’s is a fast food restaurant that was incorporated in McDonald’s revolutionized American eating habits, as well as the business concept of franchising. With its 1971 slogan “You deserve a break today” McDonald’s became a household name. In 1975 McDonald’s opened its first drive through window with the goal of serving customers in 50 seconds or less further advancing the popularity and speed with which Americans could get a meal from McDonald’s. Building on a generation who had grown up eating at McDonald’s, the 1980’s and 90’s saw McDonald’s expand its menu items to breakfast foods as well as salads and other healthy options to lure purists of the health craze that was currently being experienced. Back

6 Tort - Tort law is the name given to a body of law that creates, and provides remedies for, civil wrongs that do not arise out of contractual duties back

7 Plaintiff – Stella Liebeck
Stella Liebeck – received burns on her body which required an eight day hospital stay, and skin grafting She was the lone plaintiff Liebeck sought to settle with McDonald's for $20,000 to cover her medical costs, which were $11,000, but the company offered only $800. She retained a lawyer, Reed Morgan, who gave the fast-food restaurant another opportunity to settle by paying $90,000 before the case went to court. McDonald's refused Morgan's offer. Now angry, Morgan recommended $300,000 to settle, The two parties entered into mediation to try to avoid a trial, and a mediator suggested $225,000, but again McDonald's refused these final pre-trial attempts to settle. back

8 Complaint Known also as the “McDonald's coffee case,” this 1994 product liability lawsuit alleged that McDonald’s was negligent by selling coffee that was too hot. Complaint was for “gross negligence” for selling coffee that was “unreasonably dangerous” and “defectively manufactured”. In 1992, 79 year old Stella Liebeck orders coffee through a McDonald’s drive-through window in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her son-in-law who was driving, stopped the car to allow her to place cream and sugar into the coffee. Anchoring the cup between her legs, Mrs. Liebeck pried off the lid of the Styrofoam cup which caused the entire cup of hot coffee to spill onto her lap resulting in 3rd degree burns to her thighs, groin and buttocks. She was taken to the hospital where she was treated for 3rd degree burns over 6% of her body and lesser burns over 16%. Two years of rehabilitation and skin grafting were required for Mrs. Liebeck. back

9 Gross negligence Fault characterized by extreme carelessness showing willful or reckless disregard for the consequences to the safety or property of another. Gross negligence may give rise to punitive damages above and beyond general damage awards. "Legal Dictionary." Dictionary of Legal Terms Law Offices of Scott K. Liner. 23 Mar 2009 <http://skl-law.com/legal_dictionary#G>. back

10 Defendant McDonald’s Corporation McDonald’s Restaurant PTS Inc.
McDonald’s International Inc. back

11 Judgment This case was put before a jury and the jury found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded her $2.7 million for punitive damages, with $200,000 for compensatory damage. The judge later reduced the punitive award to $480,000 bringing the total to $680,000. Both parties appealed, and ended up settling out of court for an undisclosed amount of money. back

12 Discovery In law, discovery is the pre-trial phase in a lawsuit in which each party through the law of civil procedure can request documents and other evidence from other parties or can compel the production of evidence by using a subpoena or through other discovery devices, such as requests for production of documents, and depositions. In other words, discovery includes (1) interrogatories; (2) motions or requests for production of documents; (3) requests for admissions; and (4) depositions. "Discovery." Wikipedia. 18 MAR Wikipedia. 23 Mar 2009 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discovery_(law)>. back

13 Negligence During the case, Liebeck's attorneys discovered that McDonald's required franchises to serve coffee at 180–190 °F (82–88 °C). At that temperature, the coffee would cause a third-degree burn in two to seven seconds. Stella Liebeck's attorney argued that coffee should never be served hotter than 140 °F (60 °C), and that a number of other establishments served coffee at a substantially lower temperature than McDonald's. Liebeck's lawyers presented the jury with evidence that 180 °F coffee like that McDonald’s served may produce third-degree burns (where skin grafting is necessary) in about 12 to 15 seconds (as a reference, the boiling point of water is 212 °F or 100 °C). Lowering the temperature to 160 °F (71 °C) would increase the time for the coffee to produce such a burn to 20 seconds. back


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