In 1992 Stella Liebeck spilled scorching hot McDonald’s coffee on her lap while pulling out of a drive-thru in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She suffered severe burns and sued the company for serving a dangerous product. It’s one of the most talked about personal injury cases in recent memory. Even with all the publicity surrounding the case, few people know the facts. For instance, many are surprised to learn that Liebeck’s injuries were hardly minor. She suffered third-degree burns over sixteen percent of her body and never fully recovered.
A new documentary attempts to tell the true story and dispel the popular myths about the case. “Hot Coffee” premiered last month at the Sundance Film Festival and has since been purchased by HBO. It is directed by Susan Saladoff, a lawyer turned filmmaker from Ashland, Oregon. The film reveals how the details of the McDonald's lawsuit were greatly distorted; that corporations have spent millions spinning the facts in an attempt to avoid future trials.
Despite a jury’s ruling in her favor, the public largely dismissed Liebeck’s case as a frivolous lawsuit. The incident became comedic fodder for late night talk shows and fueled a new wave of lawyer jokes nationwide. That reaction had serious consequences. Victims like Liebeck, already at a financial disadvantage taking on powerful multi-national corporations, must now fight the false image perpetuated by those corporations. Saladoff’s film corrects that image.
Click here to watch an excerpt from the movie and hear a conversation with Stella Liebeck’s daughter and son-in-law who recount the incident and talk about the public’s misconceptions of the case.
The Personal Injury Law Update is a service of D'Amore Law Group