People in California may be familiar with one of the most famous personal injury lawsuits of all time, the McDonalds "hot coffee" case, in which a woman sued the fast food giant after she was severely burned by a cup of coffee that spilled on her lap. In typical media fashion, news articles were quick to demonize the victim, pointing out how absurd it was that she could sue for spilling coffee in her own lap. After all, coffee is supposed to be hot, right?
But the important details that the media missed make all the difference in the world. What they omitted was the fact that the coffee was kept, by McDonalds, at an absurdly high 180 to 190 degrees, a heat so high that it can cause severe third-degree burns in as few as three seconds of contact with human skin. It is also unfit for human consumption at such a high temperature, and can cause serious burns to the throat and mouth. They also generally failed to report the fact that McDonald's had known about the danger of scalding customers for over a decade, yet never did anything to change its policy or protect consumers. Without giving so much as a warning, they continued this dangerous practice until one woman was severely burned and had the courage to stand up to the mega-corporation.
The woman originally offered to settle the case for $20,000 to cover her significant medical expenses and lost wages from the time she couldn't work because of her injuries, but McDonald's countered with a measly $800. At that time, the woman and her attorney pushed forward, taking McDonald's to trial to hold it accountable for its unconscionable practices. The result was a jury awarding the woman $3 million in punitive damages.
In a burn injury case, medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering and other compensatory damages are all possible, and in some egregious cases of negligence or recklessness there may also be grounds for punitive damages as well. An experienced personal injury attorney may be able to help victims understand what their cases entail and whether such damages are a possibility.
Source: Consumer Attorneys of California "The McDonald's Hot Coffee Case" accessed Aug. 10, 2015