Hot Coffee Remembered

Remember when in 1992 an 81 year old woman named Stella suffered ugly third degree burns to her thighs and her private parts after accidentally spilling McDonald’s coffee in her lap?  Remember when she sued and she became the laughing stock of millions of Americans because a jury compensated her for her injuries and then punished McDonald’s with punitive damages for its refusal to lower the temperature of its coffee?


What facts do we remember – or do we only remember what the news media and others said happened?   Or how much money the media said Stella received?  Like Paul Harvey used to say, what is the “Rest of the Story”?

  • Do we know that Stella immediately went into shock on account of her excruciating burns and required horrific-looking skin grafts?
  • Do we know that Stella’s medical bills were $10,000, but McDonald’s offered her only $800 – thereby forcing Stella to sue?
  • Do we know that Stella had never sued anyone in her life before this and her real purpose in suing was to try to get McDonald’s to reduce the temperature of their coffee?
  • Do we know that Stella was found to be partially responsible for her own injuries and the jury award was consequently reduced to $160,000 for her pain, suffering, medical bills and disfiguring scars?
  • Do we know that the jury decided to punish McDonalds for adamantly refusing to turn the temperature down, even after hundreds of customers were seriously burned, well before Stella was severely burned?
  • Do we know that the temperature that McDonald’s served its coffee was 30 degrees hotter than the ordinary coffee maker?
  • Do we know that the jury decided that $2.7 million would be a fair punishment, but that the judge reduced that amount to $600,000?
  • Do we know that Stella was held up to ridicule from 1992 until she died in 2004 for standing up for her rights under the United States Constitution and winning?
  • Do we know that on account of Stella standing up for herself and for many others, McDonald’s finally turned the temperature down on its coffee?
  • Do we all know that Stella should have died a hero in a David and Goliath story, but in fact she died a pariah – vilified by rumor, gossip and misinformation?

Rick Stege, October 21, 2013

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