Warning: Canadian Coffee Seller Makes Fun of Hot Coffee Warnings

Liebeck coffee burn.

One of the milder pictures of  Stella Liebeck’s coffee burn injuries.

Any mention of lawsuits and hot coffee invariably invokes the grossly misunderstood “McDonald’s coffee spill” case of Stella Liebeck, a 79-old-woman who suffered third-degree burns after spilling a stryrofoam, takeout cup of McDonald’s coffee on her legs.

I apologize for the gruesome picture, but a large part of the misunderstanding of this case comes from people not appreciating that Ms. Liebeck suffered extremely severe injuries. There are much worse pictures of her injuries available on the internet. There is also a ton of information, and misinformation, out there about the McDonald’s case. Here (scroll down to “Public Perceptions: The McDonald’s Coffee Spill”) and here are a couple accounts of the facts. You might also want to check out the movie, Hot Coffee, which explores the McDonald’s case and, more generally, the tort reform movement.

Canadian coffee cup warning

Sideways on purpose. Click to expand.

At least one Canadian coffee seller found the idea of warning consumers about hot coffee to be amusing:

“If this was another country, we’d have to tell you this coffee may be hot. Good thing this is Canada!”

13 comments to Warning: Canadian Coffee Seller Makes Fun of Hot Coffee Warnings

  • Stephanie

    Thank you for this article. The way that this case is always misunderstood frustrates me to no end. My husband and I watched the Hot Coffee documentary last year. He is an attorney and I finish law school this week. Until we saw the documentary, the “hot coffee” case was part of what we considered the “dirty part” of tort law. Instead of just being a Michael Moore-ish scathing attack on something (which does have its own time and place), the documentary was fair and very eye-opening about the real facts and outcome in the case. It also changed my mind a bit on damages caps.

  • David

    What is the Canadian coffee seller that has this cup?

  • Brandy G

    Just out of curiosity, which Canadian cafe is this cup from?

  • ee

    You Americans are just funny … if you spill hot coffee on yourself you are an idiot. simple as that. Nobody is to blame than yourself. Americans need to take responsibility for their actions and not look for someone to blame for their stupidity!

    • Andrew J. McClurg

      So you’ve never spilled anything on yourself? You must be amazing.

      • Dale

        That’s simply not what he said, Andrew. But WHEN we spill stuff on ourselves, WE should be responsible. Instead of arguing against a point he wasn’t making, argue the facts (if they support you). Weren’t damages awarded based on the coffee being significantly hotter than it was supposed to be? Argue with that.

    • Shari

      I am an American and I couldn’t agree more!

  • George Norman Lippert

    Methinks the Canadian coffee seller is not mocking Ms. Liebeck. What happened to her is indeed an unfortunate accident. But that is the operative word: accident. What the coffee seller is mocking is the pervasive, modern idea that common sense is passe and warning labels can –and absolutely should–take its place. Many would tend to agree.

  • Frank Swaney, Esq.

    The real problem here is the way McDonald’s executives were very smug in their “if we gotta give a couple old ladies 3rd degree burns, it’s a cost of doing business.” It’s this logic that some companies follow out to more gruesome ends, I.e. “if product x kills 15 people, which costs us $x, or we could add a safety feature that would eliminate deaths, but it’s more expensive than the lawsuits (we have cost certainty because of tort reform)- then we’ll just kill the people…

    Granted she spilled on herself and was partly to blame… but the coffee was served virtually boiling… hotter than anyone could drink it as… that’s the problem… no drinkstuff should have the potential to melt one”l to melt your flesh like you’re a Nazi in raiders of the lost ark… and McDonald’s was serving it knowingly with blatant disregard for the public… what if it had been a baby or toddler? There’s no reason for McDonald’s coffee to be sold 15-20 degrees C hotter them Tim Horton’s and everybody else’s. Companies have a duty to make products safe… just because cars are dangerous doesn’t mean there should be an impaling spike on the steering wheel (check out the Chevy corvair)

  • DrMoisheP

    BTW, they use Americun English: “If this _was_” should be subjunctive “were”.

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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