The 10 Best Spilled Hot Coffee Lawsuits In History
Hot coffee: morning necessity or silent killer? Maybe both. You've almost certainly heard the story of Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants, the infamous case of 79-year-old Stella Liebeck who received around $400,000 in damages after suffering third-degree burns from a defective cup of McDonald's coffee spilling on her pelvic region.
While this case stands out as the most famous—even going as far to be the subject of an aptly titled documentary called Hot Coffee—there've been a slew of similar stories throughout history that've put coffee in the category of "deadly substance."
Here are some of the priciest and ridiculous ones we could find. Good luck out there, people.
Fragoso v. Dunkin’ Brands, Inc.
In 2012, Jennifer Fragoso was served hot cider from Dunkin’ Donuts that was hot “beyond industry standards to the point where patrons could not safely consume it” and received second- and third-degree burns on her upper thighs.
Damages sought: Unreported
What happened: It was never reported whether Ms. Fragoso was awarded any money for the burn, but representatives from Dunkin' Donuts commented that all of their cups are now labeled "CAUTION: THIS BEVERAGE IS EXTREMELY HOT." So, you know, at least there's that.
Angelica Keller v. Southwest Airlines
On a Houston-bound Southwest flight in 2012, 43-year-old Angelica Keller was handed a cup of tea. Because she was in the first row and did not have a drop-down table, Keller spilled the tea in her lap.
Damages sought: Keller sought $800,000, with $300,000 reportedly going towards the “pain and suffering” she went through. Just goes to show you that crashing isn't the worst thing that can happen to you during a flight.
What happened: Angelica Keller was eventually awarded $500,000 in punitive damages.
Abdelal v. McDonald’s
When four-year-old Lynn Abdelal gave a cup of coffee to her grandmother, Mona, the lid fell off, resulting in third-degree burns all over Mona's body. Part of the complaint is based on the fact that a McDonald's employee served coffee to such a young child.
Damages sought: $4 million in damages
What happened: As of 2012—when the incident happened—the company had still not been served with Abdelal's lawsuit, apparently.
Matthew Kohr v. Starbucks
A North Carolina police officer, Matthew Kohr, spilled a cup of Starbucks coffee in his lap, which apparently “aggravated his Crohn's disease, caused anxiety and sleeplessness, and led to a loss of intimacy with his wife." Oh, did we mention the coffee was free?
Damages sought: $750,000
What happened: Eventually, the jury voted that Starbucks was not required to pay any money to Kohr from the 2012 incident. No word of the state of Kohr’s sex life.
Hedy Chen v. In-N-Out Burger
In 2013, Hedy Chen was reportedly handed an “exclusively hot” (?!?!?!) cup of coffee without the protective sleeve, which was so scalding that she dropped the coffee and spilled it onto her abdomen and thighs, leading her to “scream in pain."
Damages sought: Chen received second-degree burns and is still reportedly seeking unspecified damages for her injuries.
What happened: The conclusion of Chen and her exclusively hot cup of coffee is unknown to us—it's probably pending—but we're offering a boiling-hot cup of joe to anyone who knows more information about this case.
Lourdes Cervantes v. Continental Airlines
While aboard a flight from Madrid, Spain to New Jersey in 2011, Lourdes Cervantes claimed to have sustained second-degree burns after a cup of coffee fell on her lap when the passenger in the row ahead of her reclined. Adding severely uncomfortable insult to injury, Cervantes' attorney reported that, "Ms. Cervantes has multiple sclerosis, so when the coffee spilled on her she couldn't get up. She just had to sit there and take it."
Damages sought: Cervantes sought out the very specific amount of $170,550.
What happened: Continental and Cervantes settled privately out of court, so it's unclear how much of that she got.
Edwards v. McDonald's
Like many of the stories we've heard, this tale of terror happened in a drive-thru, where a coffee lid came loose, spilling coffee all over the hands of Selena Edwards, and causing second-degree burns.
Damages sought: Unreported
What happened: Turns out all the photos Edwards sent in 2014 were fake, pulled off the website of a hospital. Edwards then ended up facing 21 felony counts of insurance and workers' compensation fraud.
Kathleen Perez v. Burger King
In 2013, Kathleen Perez was handed a cup of coffee from Burger King's drive-thru window when the lid fell off, scalding her arm, chest, and stomach. There's very little information on how this case panned out, but we can't help thinking about this would have never happened in Germany.
Damages sought: Undisclosed
What happened: We couldn't find any court records about what happened to Ms. Perez or if she was, in fact, awarded the undisclosed amount she sought.
Jose Adames and Sally Irizarry v. Denny’s
Back in 2012, the 14-month-old daughter of Jose Adames and Sally Irizarry allegedly grabbed a cup of and spilled it all over herself. The parents claim it was the waitress’ fault for placing it within reach of the toddler.
Damages sought: The parents asked for "lifetime medical care at a cost of more than $340,000."
What happened: According the BuffaloNews.com: “The final settlement, approved by U.S. Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott, remains confidential but it is believed to be near the $500,000 previously disclosed in court papers.”
Liebeck v. McDonald’s
The crème de la crème! In 1994, Stella Liebeck ordered a 49-cent cup of coffee from McDonald’s, placed it between her knees, and—in the process of adding cream and sugar—spilled the coffee over her body when the lid came off, resulting in third-degree burns.
Damages sought: $20,000, then $2.9 million
What happened: Liebeck would have accepted the coverage of her $20,000 medical bill, but Micky D's countered with an $800 offer. Reeling from that slap in the face, her lawyers hit back like a ton of bricks and a jury awarded her $2.9 million. Unfortunately, the buzzkill judge only let her keep $640,000.
BONUS: In 2015, a hotel guest in Germany sought out 3,000 Euros after her shower apparently gave her second-degree burns. True story.
Jeremy Glass is a staff writer for Supercompressor and would find it in his heart to forgive coffee if it burned most of his body.
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