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Watch the Story Behind the McDonald's Coffee Lawsuit

Hillary Dixler Canavan is Eater's restaurant editor and the author of the publication's debut book, Eater: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes From the Authority on Where to Eat and Why It Matters (Abrams, September 2023). Her work focuses on dining trends and the people changing the industry — and scouting the next hot restaurant you need to try on Eater's annual Best New Restaurant list.

Here's a video from the New York Times "Retro Report" series that goes into the details of and industry changes since the infamous 1990's McDonald's hot coffee lawsuit. The video goes into the "widely misunderstood" details of the case, including the fact that the severity of the third degree burns from the spilled coffee caused the 79 year-old Stella Liebeck to go into shock and sent her to the hospital for a week in 1992.

Apparently over 700 people had previously complained about having been burned by scalding coffee. At the time the coffee was being served at temperatures between 180 and 190 degrees, hot enough to cause third degree burns. McDonald's had initially offered Liebeck only $800 when she asked for assistance covering her medical bills (about $10,000) and later refused to settle out of court when they were sued. Initially awarded $2.9 million by the jury, the judge ultimately reduced the damages to about $500,000.

An accompanying article tracks changes since the case, noting "the world now caters to the coffee drinker." Changes like the "sculptured lid" with a sipping hole, raised lips above cup rims, and even improved cup holders in cars have made coffee drinking easier and safer since the early '90s. Standard serving temperatures have lowered to about 170 degrees. Below, the video report:

Video: Burned by McDonald's Coffee, Then the News Media

· Not Just a Hot Cup Anymore [NYT]
· Burned by McDonald's Coffee, Then the News Media [YouTube]
· All McDonald's Coverage on Eater [-E-]