Everyone has heard of the “frivolous” McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit — the one where a jury awarded millions of dollars for some spilled coffee. But have you ever wondered if you knew the whole story … whether there might be more to the story of why a jury might have returned a large verdict for a little spilled coffee?

I can tell you that I have been trying injury lawsuits in Upstate N.Y. for more than 25 years, and when I am picking a jury, I am always confronted by the idea of “runaway juries” and “ridiculous verdicts” and the McDonald’s case is always advanced as the poster child for where the personal injury system has gone wrong.

Many times I have explained the true facts behind the McDonald’s case. When people hear what really went on, they understand exactly why the McDonald’s case isn’t crazy after all:

  • I explain that the woman suffered horrible burns, leaving her with permanent scars.
  • I explain how this particular McDonald’s purposely kept its coffee hotter than other McDonald’s despite previous people who were injured by the scalding coffee.
  • I explain how the judge reduced the jury verdict for punitive damages from $2.7 million to $480,000.
  • I explain that the legal system actually worked as it should in that case because ultimately McDonald’s was only ordered to pay an amount that was just and fair to the victim as well as an amount that was just and fair to McDonald’s.

But better than any explanation I can provide is a new movie called “Hot Coffee,” which tells the real tale behind the McDonald’s case. This movie is playing on HBO right now and I strongly urge you to watch it if you get the chance.

Don’t worry – the movie is actually much more interesting and entertaining than it sounds.

So you can learn more …

Here is the movie website and the HBO website.

To read an interview with the filmmaker, click here.

And here is the trailer for the movie:

Below I have pasted a recent review of the movie by noted lawyer Gerald L Shargel.

One thing I have learned as a trial lawyer is that there are ALWAYS two sides to every story, so it’s important that we always hear BOTH sides before reaching a final conclusion ….

Thanks for reading and please let me know what you think of the movie!

Thanks, Jim

James B. Reed
NY & PA Injury & Malpractice Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Mailto: jreed@zifflaw.com
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)


From Gerald L. Shargel’s review:

“While there may be no reliable data about the number of frivolous lawsuits filed each year, the civil justice system is largely self-regulating and the vast majority of frivolous lawsuits are weeded out early. The initial filtering process is the assessment of the case by lawyers who often take cases on a contingency basis, earning a fee only if there is a recovery; lawyers understandably will avoid a case where the claim is unlikely to succeed. Even after a jury verdict, a judge has the right to modify a jury’s damage award if the evidence does not support it. In Stella Lieback’s hot coffee case against McDonald’s, the trial judge reduced the $2.7 million punitive damages verdict to $480,000, while compensatory damages were reduced from $200,000 to $160,000.

“Tort claims serve the public good. More than simply compensating victims, meritorious lawsuits can force corporate or individual defendants to change or modify the behavior that caused the harm or injury. Hot Coffee lends a strong voice to those who favor fundamental fairness in redressing well-founded claims.”

To see the full review, go here.