It's practically a cliche — a person spills hot coffee on himself or herself, sues, and gets a windfall. It's been the go-to example for people talking about America's lawsuit-happy culture for years.

The cases are often a little more complicated than that — as they were this week, when a Somerset woman settled a suit with Dunkin' Donuts for $522,000.

Here's four hot coffee lawsuits were, at least according to some arguments, not just the steaming such-and-such you might think — and one cops say definitely was.

Getting underfoot: Let's start with the New Jersey case. Attorney Ed Rebenack tells Maria Marsala tripped over an exposed spike from a dislodged curb stop, causing her to spill the coffee on her face and neck. It's not clear from the report just how bad her burns were, but Rebenack is quoted as saying "basic property maintenance would have saved Ms. Marsala from years of debilitating injuries."

Starbucks fought the law, and Starbucks won: A jury in North Carolina decided in May not to award damages to a cop burned by a spilled cup of coffee. The cop had argued his cup was faulty, and the burns set off his Chron's disease. He needed surgery to remove a portion of his intestine, spent months on sick leave and struggled to return to work, he'd said. But a jury didn't find Starbucks at fault, after Starbucks argued the cop never showed the company was responsible for the spill.

Badly burned by coffee, and the press: Burned Remember Stella Liebeck? Hers is perhaps the most famous and most riduculed hot-coffee case. She was 79 years old in 1992,  when she spillde a cup of McDonald's coffee in her lap, sitting in her parked car. But RetroReport revisited the case more than two decades later, detailing how 16 percent of her body became covered in burns, and McDonalds ignored 700 earlier complaints about hot coffee burns in the decade prior. A jury awarded her $2.9 million in damages.

In reach: Back in 2012, the 14-month-old daughter of Jose Adames and Sally Irizarry allegedly grabbed a cup of coffee at a New York Denny's and spilled it all over herself. The parents claim it was the waitress’ fault for placing it within reach of the toddler. The girl suffered first- and second-degree burns over her neck, chest and abdomen, the Buffalo News reports. According to the report, the final settlement is believed to have been about half a million dollars.

• Giving a bad name to hot coffee lawsuits: Selena Edwards of Victorville, Calif had claimed an unsecured lid caused steaming McDonald’s coffee to spill on and severely burn her right hand; she sued in 2012. But authorities say pictures of her burns came form the Internet — that she hoped the Golden Arches would be her golden ticket, the Los Angeles Times reports.  "By copying legitimate burn photos from the Internet, Edwards attempted to make a profit from another person’s pain and suffering and for this she will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law," state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said.

Louis C. Hochman is digital managing editor for Reach him at or on Twitter @LouisCHochman.

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