Clovis woman sues McDonald's over hot coffee burns

20 years after a landmark lawsuit over hot coffee, a Clovis woman is suing McDonald's.
October 31, 2013 4:56:06 PM PDT
20 years after a landmark lawsuit over hot coffee, a Clovis woman is suing McDonald's. She's claiming the fast food chain hasn't changed its ways, and she has the burns to prove it.

Joan Fino, 74, suffered second degree burns when she says a McDonald's employee basically spilled coffee into her car. Her injuries are bad, but even her attorney admits they're not million dollar injuries. He's suing for millions, though, because he says McDonald's is still putting profits over people's safety.

Her injuries are hidden under her jeans, but Joan Fino's legs carry the scars of her last cup of coffee at McDonald's from August 2012. She says she ordered two cups, and the clerk spilled the second one right in her lap.

"The lid fell off," she said. "The lid wasn't on correctly. And the coffee just burned me."

Fino ended up in the Community Regional Medical Center burn center. She missed the birth of a grandson that night, and the pain wouldn't let up.

"The first night I took a pain pill and I kept waking up because it made me sick," Fino said. "So I stopped taking them. And then instead of the pain pill, I'd be up at night crying, so I'd end up using ice packs."

She racked up thousands in medical bills, but never heard back from McDonald's after making an accident report. She did, however, have one brief conversation with the restaurant's insurance company.

"All they said was 'We just want to ask one question,'" she said. "'OK. What?' 'Did you blister?' and I said 'Yes' and they said 'OK' and that was it."

Fino's not the first senior citizen to suffer burns from McDonald's coffee. A jury awarded Stella Liebeck nearly $3 million for her burns 20 years ago. Back then, McDonald's kept coffee between 180 and 190 degrees.

The New York Times says franchises are now told to keep it between 170 and 180, still as much as 30 degrees higher than coffee brewed at home. Fino's attorney says hotter coffee stays fresh longer, so it saves McDonald's money, while risking more burns.

"You can't continue on with this conduct where you're putting your profits ahead of the safety of your customers," said attorney Butch Wagner. "That's got to be stopped."

McDonald's didn't return our emails or phone calls, but there may have been changes -- at least at the Clovis franchise where Fino bought her coffee. Clerks handed us coffee with two napkins, and at a much lower temperature.

Liebeck's case eventually settled for much less money, and she became the butt of jokes.

Fino is steeling herself for criticism, but says it'll be worth it to change the way McDonald's sells coffee, once and for all.

"People are calling me a crazy old lady and they're making it sound like she should buy ice tea," she said. "They make it sound like I went in and bought a coffee and spilled it on myself. I didn't do that. I went to get coffee and you know, it's their fault. It was too hot and the lids weren't on right."

Fino's case could be headed for trial as soon as next year, and her attorney is asking for damages in excess of $2 million. He says at least 1,000 people have been burned by McDonald's coffee in the last 20 years.


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