Monday, August 30, 2010

Caution: contents may be hot

No s#$!, it's coffee!

I think we're all pretty used to seeing the warning on coffee cups, and other hot to-go items, but does anyone remember the lawsuit in 1994 that warranted these warnings?

I do, because I thought it was ridiculous at the time, and then when we covered it in my MBA program, I still thought it was ridiculous.

I'll provide a refresher for those of you who don't remember the case: a 79-year-old lady bought a $0.49 cup of coffee at a McDonald's drive through. Then her grandson stopped the car so she could add cream and sugar. She put the cup between her legs, and while trying to remove the lid, she spilled the entire cup in her lap and suffered third degree burns. Her lawsuit against McDonald's alleged that the coffee was defective because of excessive heat and inadequate warnings, and that the extreme temperature made the coffee unfit for consumption.

McDonald's, at the time, served coffee between 180 and 190 degrees, while coffee made at home is usually between 135 and 140 degrees. The reason McDonald's coffee is so hot is because most of their customers buy the coffee and take it elsewhere (like work) to drink, and McDonald's doesn't want it to get cold on the way. This makes perfect sense to me: I have a high heat tolerance, and always order my hot drinks "extra hot" because otherwise they are too cool before I get a change to drink them. Or, put another way, my mother says she prefers her drinks to cool in front of her, while she's enjoying them, rather than starting out not hot enough.

Even the jury foreman noted, of the case,"[I] wasn't sure why I needed to be there to settle a coffee spill." (from "Jury Awards Punitive Damages Against McDonald's for Excessively Hot Coffee," Law Reporter, February 1995).

Here's the thing, in my opinion. I agree that it's awful that this woman received third degree burns as a result of spilling her coffee, but why in the world would you let a 79-year-old fiddle with a hot beverage between her legs in your car? In my car, if you have a drink that needs to be played with, you do it before you get in the car. I don't want spills in my car, and any time anyone is stirring or adding cream or sugar or whatever to a drink, it's possible to spill or drip or something. I don't want spilt coffee in my car, I don't want spilt sugar in my car, and I don't want spilt cream in my car. I understand that it might happen anyway. I occasionally spill my go-cup of tea, but it's usually because I'm not paying attention, which seems to be a big cause of accidental spills.

It seems to me that an easy solution would be to go into the store to buy the coffee, which is what I do with my mother, who is, by the way, not 79-years-old. If we're driving around and Mom wants a cup of coffee, we get out of the car, order the cup "with room," so there's room for the cream, and then she takes it over to the stand and adds her cream and whatever and stirs it there, and we don't leave until the lid is secure, and even then, we grab a couple of extra napkins. I don't want my mom spilling her coffee in my car, but I also don't want her spilling it on herself. Probably, wherever we're headed is more fun and entertaining than either having to go back home for a change of clothes, or going to the ER in the event of burns from a spill. Really, this just seems like common sense to me.


  1. I came here by reading the following comment and googling :)

    Thanks for the info about case :)

  2. Political correctness and a compensation culture gone mad. I's even affecting us here in the UK. Nuts!