McDonald’s Burn Injury Could Happen To You, Says Los Angeles Lawyer

December 16, 2013

Ellis Law Corporation

Personal Injury

The world first learned of 79-year-old Stella Liebeck of Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1992, when a cup of piping hot McDonald’s coffee spilled on her lap, causing third-degree burns and a successful lawsuit worth $2.9 million. Late night talk show hosts lampooned the woman for her seemingly frivolous lawsuit, but a Fresno, California lawyer says that McDonald’s has learned very little from their expensive blunder 21 years later. His client, 74-year-old Joan Fino, is suing McDonald’s for second-degree burns to her groin sustained in August 2012 – and she is not alone.

Woman’s screams were ignored by McDonald’s employees

Joan Fino pulled into the McDonald’s at Alluvial and Temperance in Clovis on August 14th, 2012 – a few months after the location opened for business. She was alone, but ordered an extra cup of coffee for her husband. The first cup of coffee the worker handed her had a loose lid, which spilled coffee onto her fingers. She quickly put the cup into the holder, but felt the burn.

When the second cup was handed to her, the coffee spilled on her lap, causing a horrific burn. “I was screaming and crying but the lady at the window didn’t even offer to help me,” Mrs. Fino told the Fresno Bee. The pain was so bad, she immediately fled from her car to the restroom, leaving her car running in the drive-through. She cried in the bathroom, but no one came to help. Finally, a female employee asked for her name and phone number.

Joan Fino drove home in tears. Her husband first took her to Clovis Community Medical Center, but she was immediately referred to the burn center at Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno, where she was diagnosed with second-degree burns.

An insurance agent from McDonald’s contacted her once to ask if she had blistering, but that was it. Over a year later, she is using lotions and ice packs, but the burning never completely goes away. “I have trouble sleeping because the burning sensation doesn’t go away,” she said.

“They need to put the lids on right so people don’t get hurt,” she said. Next year, her case will go before the Fresno County Superior Court, where she will ask for more than $2 million — unless a confidential settlement is reached first.

Burn injury attorneys push for reforms over a decade after the Liebeck case

Joan Fino’s lawyer believes she has a stronger case than Stella Liebeck because she was actually handed two faulty cups of coffee by a McDonald’s employee, whereas Liebeck spilled the coffee on herself while holding the cup between her legs and trying to pry the lid off to add cream and sugar.

Yet, the Liebeck case will undoubtedly help show McDonald’s in a negative light. During discovery, McDonald’s produced documents showing more than 700 injury claims of patrons burned by their coffee from 1982 to 1992. Many cases were similar to Liebeck’s in severity. She suffered third-degree burns on over 6 percent of her body, including her inner thighs, genitals, perineum and buttocks. During her eight-day hospitalization, she underwent skin grafting and debridement treatments. She was willing to settle for $20,000, but McDonald’s refused.

At the trial, McDonald’s said that they kept their coffee at 180 to 190 degrees to maintain optimal flavor. They admitted that safety had not been tested at this temperature, but the guideline was based on a recommendation from a consultant. Starbucks brews coffee to 200 degrees, but lets it sit for 30 minutes until it reaches 170 degrees, according to the NY Times. Home-brewed coffee is generally 135 to 140 degrees.

McDonald’s quality assurance managers testified they were aware that a burn hazard existed for any food or drink above 140 degrees. An expert witness called by the plaintiff testified that 180-degree liquids cause third-degree burns in two to seven seconds, whereas 155-degree coffee would have cooled enough to avoid serious damage.

McDonald’s burn injuries are more common than you think, say burn injury attorneys

“Despite over 1,000 complaints from customers about being burned by the coffee, McDonald’s still continues to brew the coffee at such an exceptionally high temperature,” said Joan Fino’s attorney. “They are saving more in production costs in brewing coffee and serving at such high temperature than it costs them to settle the cases with these people who have been injured.”

The NY Times reports that around 80 people a year are hospitalized for coffee and tea burns at the William Randolph Hearst Burn Center in New York. Though the majority of these accidents happen at home to children under six years of age, serious accidents can happen anywhere, especially when negligent companies continue to serve scalding-hot brew.

Burn injury attorneys at Ellis Law in El Segundo have experience in obtaining multi-million-dollar settlements and jury awards for our clients. No case is too big or too small. Call 310-641-3335 to speak with a qualified Los Angeles personal injury lawyer.