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OFF BEAT: Coffee-injury fib lands would-be claimant in hot water

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Spilling a false coffee-injury story requires keeping a tight lid on the facts or you might get burned, a California woman has learned.

Selena Edwards, 38, of Victorville, California, has been charged with fraud for claiming she had been scalded by coffee Jan. 28, 2013, at a McDonald’s drive-thru in Fontana, California, then downloading online photos to try to illustrate that she had suffered second-degree burns on her hand, according to media reports.

She faces 21 felony counts of fraud for filing an injury claim in which she said she was handed a cup of coffee at a McDonald's drive-thru with an improperly secured lid that allowed the hot liquid to spill on her hand, the California Department of Insurance said Monday, according to Reuters. She submitted an injury claim with photos from a hospital website of a burned hand she said was her own, and submitted bogus documentation describing treatment she said she received at a hospital, according to the Department of Insurance.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Ms. Edwards was seeking $10,000 from her claims. She was charged by the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office, according to the paper.

Reuters reports the case against Ms. Edwards comes 20 years after a well-known product liability lawsuit in which Stella Liebeck won a $2.9 million civil judgment in New Mexico over burns she suffered at age 79 from hot coffee she bought at McDonald’s. That judgment was reduced to $480,000, and became the butt of jokes, symbolizing the problem of frivolous lawsuits for many people, Reuters said.

But a significant difference between the cases remains: Ms. Liebeck actually suffered her third-degree burns, while California insurance officials say Ms. Edwards, on the other hand, made up her injury claim.

“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,” California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said in a statement obtained by Reuters.