Tuesday 27 September 2022

LEGAL CASES – McDonald’s coffee returns to court, spill leads to serious injury

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It was a case that provided ample material for comedians — the McDonald’s hot coffee case. The case was even used as inspiration for a Seinfeld episode, with the notoriously clumsy character Kramer spilling coffee while trying to sneak a cup into the movie theater.

This historic case was heralded as an impetus for tort reform, causing critics of the system to push for limitations on courtroom awards.

Media coverage of the case focused on the jury’s initial award of millions to the victim. Coverage often failed to mention how the woman initially sought payment to cover the cost of treating her serious personal injury but was denied by the fast food mega giant.

The original case, revisited

In 1994, McDonald’s was held liable for causing serious injury to a patron who ordered a cup of coffee. The patron was 79 year-old Stella Liebeck.

The woman purchased a cup of coffee and returned to her vehicle. While sitting in the passenger seat of the car parked in the parking lot, the woman opened to cover to add cream and sugar. The cup tipped and spilled causing serious burns.

The coffee was served at a dangerously hot temperature, a temperature which led to third degree burns so severe the patron required skin graft surgery to treat her injuries. Experts testified the serving temperature was not fit for consumption as it could burn the mouth and throat.

After the trial, jurors commented that McDonald’s appeared to have a “callous disregard” for the customers they were serving. This was not the first burn injury connected to the coffee. At the time, there were over 700 previous injury cases caused by McDonald’s hot coffee.

The current case, an added twist

Although McDonald’s reportedly lowered the temperature guidelines for their trademark coffee, a recent New York Times report notes the company refuses to officially disclose the current serving temperature.

The actual temperature is not as significant in McDonald’s most recent courtroom case.

Instead, the question now asked is whether or not an employee was negligent in the attachment of the cup’s lid before serving the hot beverage. If allegations that the employee was negligent are supported, the victim may have a successful personal injury case.

Personal injury is a legal term that refers to the injury of one person due to the act of another who was legally responsible. In this case, it will likely be argued that the McDonald’s employee owed the patron a legal duty to secure the lid and carefully hand the cup to the client.

Instead, it appears the lid was not secured and that the cup may have been negligently handed to the patron since the spill happened at the drive-through window.

If true, the victim is likely eligible for compensation to help cover the cost of treating injuries connected to the accident.

Article provided by Schonberg Law Offices of the Hudson Valley, P.C.

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