Urban Myth About The McDonald’s Coffee Case: The Truth About Why Fast Food Restaurants Sell Scalding Hot Coffee

Customers want their coffee served hot.

Stella Liebeck from Albuquerque, New Mexico, was severely burned by McDonald’s coffee in February 1992 while in the passenger seat of her grandson’s car. Liebeck attempted to remove the lid of the coffee cup in order to put cream and sugar in the coffee. The car was stopped. As she was removing the lid, the contents of the 180-190 degree liquid spilled on her. Liebeck suffered burns on her inner thighs, buttocks, and groin areas. She was hospitalized for eight days and underwent skin grafts.

Generally coffee is served between 135 and 140 degrees. At that temperature it is still considered very hot, yet not scalding. Coffee that is of the temperature spilled on Liebeck is hot enough to cause third degree burns in two to seven seconds. In other words, the coffee served at McDonald’s was far too hot.

The urban myth that was generated from this case was that this was the first and only case of injury caused by scalding coffee sold by McDonald’s drive-through fast food restaurants. Discovery produced in the case however showed that McDonald’s had over 700 documents revealing claims by people burned by its coffee between 1982 and the time Liebeck was burned. McDonald’s is not the only fast food business that serves its coffee at such high temperatures. Dunkin Donuts has also been sued for similar claims.