The woman claimed that an unsecured lid caused steaming hot McDonald's coffee to spill on her right hand, severely burning it. As evidence, Selena Edwards, 38, of Victorville provided pictures of second-degree burns.
But the only burns Edwards may suffer from are the prosecutorial ones she now faces for allegedly faking her injuries.
State insurance officials say the woman's claims were a bid to extract $10,000 from McDonald's Corp. The photos and medical documents Edwards provided to bolster her case came from the Internet, they said.
"We discovered that some of the photos were from a hospital website," state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said. "We contacted her medical provider and discovered she hadn't received any medical treatment."
The San Bernardino County district attorney charged Edwards with 21 felony counts of insurance fraud and workers' compensation fraud.
A district attorney spokesman could not be reached for comment.
Authorities said Edwards looked to the golden arches in Fontana on Jan. 28, 2013, to allegedly commit the crime. Officials said the Victorville woman claimed coffee had spilled on her right hand when she was handed a cup with an unsecured lid at the McDonald's drive-through.
Jones said the insurance company became suspicious of Edwards' claims and referred the case to state investigators, who launched a probe.
"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," he said.
The prosecution of Edwards comes 20 years after a jury awarded $2.9 million to a 79-year-old woman who was badly burned after hot coffee spilled into her lap at a McDonald's in Albuquerque. The 1994 verdict attracted international attention, was mocked by radio and television talk-show hosts and was even used as a plot point in the TV comedy "Seinfeld."
Despite the controversy, the woman in that case, Stella Liebeck, actually did suffer severe third-degree burns and required skin graft surgery.
In January, a woman filed a lawsuit against McDonald's, saying she was burned when coffee spilled on her at one of the fast-food chain's Los Angeles restaurants. Paulette Carr claimed she was burned on January 2012 because the lid on her cup was not properly secured. The lawsuit did not describe the severity of Carr's injuries.
The merit of those cases aside, Jones said that every year tens of thousands of cases that potentially involve fraud are referred to his agency.
In the last 11 months there have been 26,415 cases, about 1,549 of which remain open, officials say.