Bad burns and big business: Fresno women sue McDonald's over hot coffee

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Bad burns and big business. A Fresno attorney is opening fire on McDonald's for putting profits ahead of people.

"What surprises me is the frequency in which this occurs," said plaintiff's attorney Butch Wagner. The fast food giant is facing two new lawsuits in Fresno County because of burns allegedly caused by coffee.

McDonald's has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe even millions, to settle hot coffee lawsuits. But the burns keep happening, and a few Central Valley women say they found that out the hard way.

Stella Liebeck took a lot of heat for suing McDonald's over hot coffee burns in 1993. But when the New Mexico senior citizen won, a judge called the restaurant's conduct "reckless, callous and willful."

Twenty years later, Joan Fino suffered some of the same injuries at a Clovis McDonald's. "The lid fell off," she told Action News. "The lid wasn't on correctly. And the coffee just burned me." Fino reached a settlement with the fast food chain late last year. The amount is confidential, but whatever it was, her attorney, Butch Wagner, is still hounding McDonald's.

Since he and Fino talked to Action News in October 2013, several more people have called about their burns. Wagner has taken two more cases -- for Darlene Jenkins and Robin Bebout. "They have burns and their inner thighs and their legs, the outer part of their legs, and also on their abdomens," Wagner said of his clients. "And they're second degree burns that have left scarring."

The company has admitted to keeping coffee at temperatures near 180 degrees, but that's not always the case. We bought coffee at the same McDonald's where Jenkins says she got burned. The coffee registers at about 153 degrees on our thermometer. To be fair, we checked our own break room coffee and it registered at 167.5 degrees.

Wagner says hotter coffee stays fresh longer, so McDonald's usually chooses to keep it too hot -- saving more than $1 million a day at franchises across the country. Legal analyst Jeff Hammerschmidt says that savings may be more valuable than customer safety. 'It appears McDonald's has made a business decision to sell the coffee hotter to be able to make more profit and they continue to make more profit even if they're paying settlements," he said.

Action News reached out to McDonald's corporate offices Friday, but never received a response. The company is also facing dozens of other lawsuits across the country right now.
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