It (The Lawsuit) Started With a Cup of Coffee

January 12, 2011

Many things have started with coffee. Lots of great relationships started off with a cup of coffee; people have met each other while getting coffee; and many a business deal likely started in a discussion over a cup of coffee. Now we find that many a lawsuit has its roots in a cup of coffee, and in this case, a HOT cup of coffee. Now that notorious hot cup is featured in a new film, “Hot Coffee” produced by Susan Saladoff. The film is a documentary that investigates the American civil justice system. As a result of the 1992 McDonalds coffee case, according to Saladoff, corporations have mingled lies with facts in order to malign and label civil lawsuits as “frivolous”. Big business has done this in an attempt to change the laws to make it harder for individuals to sue companies whose negligence harmed them. The original case was finally settled in a secret settlement, but a jury had leveled over $2 million in punitive penalties on McDonalds. Evidence dealt with the temperature of the offending coffee. This is the aspect that is important for coffee consumers to know, especially those who order hot coffee drinks from drive-through and speed off to the road. McDonalds had claimed that their coffee was kept warm at 185 degrees Fahrenheit. Liquid at 180 degrees will cause a full thickness third degree burn to human skin in two to seven seconds. Most coffee shops serve coffee below this temperature, and home coffeemakers heat lower - closer to 135 to 140 F. We have dealt with the hot coffee mixed with driving problem in several articles. McDonalds revealed that 700 complaints about burns were made during the ten years leading up to 1992. That’s a lot of burns and too much needless pain. Since then other coffee sellers have been sued in similar burn cases. Though tragic, these cases could be prevented if people used cup holders in their cars and let the coffee cool for a few minutes. Some establishments might agree to use your own spill-proof travel mug, especially if you go inside to place your order. Starbucks is one that will do this, but they are one of the shops that has been sued, so maybe they have reason to. Regardless, it’s important to take the extra minutes to use caution. Enjoy your coffee, but DRIVE SAFE!



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