1992, Excessively Hot McDonald’s Coffee and Damages.

Of Emilio Graziuso

6 August 2022 – Compensation for injury is undoubtedly one of the issues of greatest interest to those working in consumer protection.

Although it has a strong impact, not only legally but also in the media, the Italian legal system seems backward and in many respects inadequate, especially compared to that of other states, first of all the United States of America. consumer law.

And it is precisely to some emblematic cases that have made the history of consumer law that we have decided to dedicate the August articles in our “Agora”.

We therefore begin our review with the case also known as the case of boiling coffee (the sources from which the news for the design of this article were taken are American portals dedicated to “compensation for damage” and consumer protection, such as www.tortmuseum.org and www.citizen.org , as well as general dissemination websites, such as www.en.wikipedia.org).

We are in America in 1992 and a 79-year-old lady bought a takeaway coffee at a McDonald’s drive through while sitting in the passenger seat of the car her nephew was driving.

The car was parked and the old lady put the glass with the coffee between her knees to remove the lid and add the cream and sugar.

The drink spilled out.

Up to this point, history may seem completely irrelevant and without legal interest and instead it was a case that made history.

The unfortunate consumer actually reported third-degree burns, despite her clothing, was hospitalized for eight days and underwent skin grafts and other treatments, with medical treatment lasting approximately two years.

And all this why?

Because the coffee had a temperature of about 180 – 190 degrees, much higher by almost 30 degrees compared to other producers/sellers.

Furthermore, it emerged during the trial that a further 700 people, before the injured lady, had been burned by McDonald’s coffee and of this the company was fully informed but not acted upon.

To return to the case of the elderly lady, since the parties failed to find a settlement agreement on compensation for damage, the fight between the consumer and the financial giant moves to court and at the end of the case, the jurors recognized compensation for damage equal to $ 200,000 – reduced to $160,000, after being recognized as 20% responsible for the cause of the incident – for the injury, pain, suffering and medical expenses.

The jurors also awarded punitive damages (a peculiarity of the American system, the adoption of which in our legal system is requested by several parties, first and foremost by the National Association “On the Consumer Side”) of $2.7 million, reduced by the Judge to $480,000.

At the end of the trial, the parties reached an agreement on a reserved amount.


Lawyer Emilio Graziuso

– Cassation lawyer and fil.dr.

He has practiced law since 2002, mainly in civil law, banking and financial law and consumer law.

Lecturer at the training courses of the prestigious Giuffrè Francis Lefebvre Legal Publishing House and author of numerous publications and monographs for the same. Speaker at conferences and legal seminars and editor of the “Consumers’ Right” series published by Key Editore.Head of National Confederation

“On the consumer side“. For information and contacts write to : This email address is protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or a This email address is protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. – Address book“Agora of Court”


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