McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case Myth Leads to Reversal of Case

The Supreme Court of Idaho in Boyle v. Christensen, 251 P.3d 810 (2011) concluded that when a defense attorney invokes the McDonald’s Coffee Case in closing argument, a reversal of the jury’s verdict is warranted.

The Court noted that the general public was inundated with false and inflammatory information about the McDonald’s Coffee Case. In that case, a plaintiff was awarded almost three million dollars when she spilled hot coffee from McDonald’s on herself. On its face, the Court noted the verdict seemed excessive. However, what the publicred-cup-of-coffee-10075354 is never told by the insurance companies or comedians is that the temperature of the spilled coffee was so hot–180 to 190 degrees–that within seconds it caused third-degree burns that extended through the skin to the fat, muscle, or bone on the victim’s thighs, buttocks, and groin area. She was hospitalized for eight days, underwent skin grafts, was disabled for two years following the accident, and was permanently disfigured with scars on over 16 percent of her body.

In addition, McDonald’s had over 700 prior complaints about the hot coffee, but they made no changes to the temperature of the coffee they were selling.

Of course, in the Idaho case, the defense attorney referenced the McDonald’s Coffee Case with derision and said the jury should never make the mistake of awarding money to the plaintiff like the jury in the McDonald’s case did. Given the actual facts of the McDonald’s Coffee case and the distortion of the facts in the media, it was improper of the defense attorney to make the comments that she did. The Court, therefore, reversed the decision and concluded it was likely the jury would have awarded the plaintiff more money had the defense attorney not invoked the false spectre of the McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case.