Poor Stella Liebeck. Still getting kicked for that case!
Fact is, McDonalds was serving coffee hot enough to give third degree burns. Though people argue that is the ideal temp for coffee, McDonalds at the time was the only one selling it at drive-thru windows in cups w/caps designed - and advertised - for "drinking on the go".
As for Stella, she was not driving and did not attempt to open or drink the coffee while the car was moving. Her grandson was driving and had pulled over to allow her to add cream & sugar to the coffee. Also, McDonalds had at the time been sued over 700 times for scalds from their coffee. And Stella only asked for $20,000 from McDonalds - her medical expenses for skin grafts were about $12,000 and ongoing at the time of the suit. When McDonalds refused to settle - actually refused to settle for more than $600 - she got a lawyer and sued. Initially for $300,000. The court-appointed mediator recommended that McDonalds should pay $225,000. They refused. The jury claimed later that they had followed the closing argument of Stella's attorney and ordered a punitive damage amount equal to 2 days of the revenue McDonalds claimed it was making from coffee sales. They also declared Stella liable for 20% of the accident, and McDonalds 80%. They were making a statement against McDonalds rather than in support of Stella.
But poor Stella is still vilified and will be forever.