McDonald’s Hot Coffee Incident


Stella Lieback – A Woman Disabled By McDonald’s.


Whether you know it or not, you’ve heard of the story of the McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit, or you’ve heard jokes about it. In 1992, Stella Lieback, a 79-year-old woman and her grandson were going to McDonald’s for breakfast and got coffee. Her and her nephew, who was driving, pulled over into the McDonald’s parking lot, where she held the coffee in her lap and took the lid off of her coffee to put creamer, sugar, etc. in. The 190℉ coffee spilled in her lap, and soaked into her sweatpants. As if spilling the coffee just was not enough already, Lieback reasonably freaked out and passed out. Her nephew dragged her out of the car, removed the sweatpants that continued to cause damage, and drove her to the hospital. Lieback spent a week in the hospital with 3rd degree burns. In contrast to popular belief, Lieback did not immediately sue McDonald’s and originally only asked for them to 1. Check over their coffee machines and see why the coffee is 190℉, and 2. To pay the costs of her medical bill from her stay in the hospital. McDonald’s rejected. Ultimately, Lieback found a lawyer, Kenneth Wagner, who had just recently sued McDonald’s for a hot coffee burn (Hobbes and Marshall). The jury awarded her $200,000 in compensatory damages, but that was reduced to $160,000 because the jury believed she was 20% at fault. She additionally won $2.7 million in punitive damages for McDonald’s careless conduct (“McDonald’s Coffee Case Facts”). Lieback was permanently disabled because the burns on her legs made it hard for her to walk for obvious reasons. 

Some believe that this was a huge, frivolous lawsuit because they do not fully know all of the facts because the media likes to leave out important details. Many shows make fun of the hot coffee incident, such as Seinfield and Big Mouth. As a society, America should learn from this case in understanding that the media will hide details for attention, or that some people just do not learn all sides of the story. It is an issue we, as people, must understand. 

Something I find ironic is that after listening to this podcast, I turned on a random episode of Big Mouth and in the first 5 minutes one of the characters says – “I sure hope I don’t spill this coffee and win a big lawsuit” (Big Mouth). 

Ultimately, Lieback suffered serious damage from such a simple mistake in an almost daily task. The media spread some parts of the story but not enough of the truth to aid Americans in creating a non-ignorant opinion. 



Big Mouth, Netflix. (Season 1, Episode 5) I believe, but I am not sure.

Hobbes, Michael, and Sarah Marshall. “The McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case.” “You’re Wrong About”, 13 September 2021. Accessed 27 November 2021. Podcast.

“McDonalds Coffee Case Facts.” Texas Trial Lawyers Association, Accessed 1 December 2021.

Schwartz, John. “HBO to Show ‘Hot Coffee,’ Susan Saladoff’s First Film.” The New York Times, 26 June 2011, Accessed 1 December 2021.